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Europe in talks to replace Russian rockets with Elon Musk’s SpaceX

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SpaceX Elon Musk Rocket Russia
SpaceX Elon Musk Rocket Russia

The European Space Agency (ESA) is in talks with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to take on launches for Brussels after the West was blocked from using Russia’s Soyuz rockets.

The US rival to France’s Arianespace is in technical discussions with the bloc’s space authority to provide capacity for upcoming missions.

The EU had been planning to use French-built Ariane 6 rockets for future space flights, but these have been repeatedly delayed, prompting talks with rivals to provide a stopgap.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA director general, told Reuters that SpaceX, India and Japan were in the frame to provide launch services.

He said: “One is SpaceX, that is clear, another one is possibly Japan. Japan is waiting for the inaugural flight of its next generation rocket. Another option could be India.”

Work for the space agency would add another key client for SpaceX, which was founded by Tesla billionaire, Mr Musk. The rocket company has repeatedly secured launch contracts from the US Department of Defence.

SpaceX also secured fresh business earlier this year with a launch contract for Britain’s OneWeb, despite its rivalry with the US company’s Starlink satellite network.

OneWeb, which is building a network of broadband satellites, was also cut off from using Russian rockets after the invasion of Ukraine. It has booked at least one launch with SpaceX and one with India’s space agency.

Europe had typically depended on Russia’s Roscosmos agency and its Soyuz rockets for launching medium payloads into orbit, but could instead turn to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

The invasion of Ukraine effectively ended years of space cooperation between the Kremlin and the West. Russia has since threatened to abandon the International Space Station from 2024.

Russia’s decision to cut Western nations off from its space programme has brought renewed focus onto British efforts to develop a “sovereign” rocket launch capacity.

In September, Virgin Orbit, the space company founded by Sir Richard Branson, is due to launch a rocket into orbit from British soil for the first time.

The space company uses rockets slung on the underside of a Boeing 747 to reach orbit. The rocket is dropped from the plane at 37,000ft, before blasting off to deliver its payload. The plane is due to take off from Spaceport Newquay at the end of September.