ESA chief vows to restore Europe’s access to space

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BRUSSELS (TUSEN) — The director-general of the European Space Agency says it is crucial to rebuild Europe’s access to space after the failed launch of a European rocket carrying two Earth observation satellites last year and the delayed launch of the Ariane 6 launcher.

In an interview with The The US Express News on Wednesday, Josef Aschbacher said his “priority is to reinstall access to space, guaranteed access to space for Europe. And I’m going to work on that in all dimensions.”

Until then, he said, Europe should look to alternative solutions outside the continent, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Aschbacher said the ESA is working to identify the causes of the failure of the Vega-C rocket launch in French Guiana, and the results of the investigation are expected in less than a month.

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The Vega C launch was intended to launch two Airbus Earth observation satellites, Pleiades Neo 5 and 6, into orbit. The satellites would have been part of a constellation capable of taking images of any point on the globe at 30 centimeters (11.8 in) resolution.

“Having three failures in two years is not good,” Aschbacher said, referring to previous Vega failures. “And this is something where we really need to look into how we can change some of the practices or quality management processes that we have in place to make sure that when Vega C gets back on the launch pad, it’s safe, but also as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, as Ariane 5 prepares to retire, the delayed launch of Ariane 6 further erodes Europe’s ability to send satellites into space amid stiff competition from SpaceX and other rocket programs in the US and China.

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The first flight of the medium-weight Ariane 6 rocket was scheduled for mid-2020, but after several delays, the first launch is not expected until the fourth quarter of this year.

“Of course the top priority is getting Ariane 6 on the launch pad,” Aschbacher said. “We still have some technical issues that need to be resolved and I am not hiding them. They are serious and we really need to work through them.”

In addition, the Russian space agency has halted Soyuz launches at the European spaceport in French Guiana, in retaliation for ESA’s decision to impose sanctions imposed on Russia by its members over the war in Ukraine, leaving Europe with even fewer options .

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Until proper access to space is regained, Aschbacher said Europe should look to alternative solutions beyond the continent.

“It could be SpaceX, but it could also be someone else,” he said. “We may need an interim solution in the near future, or maybe two years at the most.”

Asked about Musk’s competition, Aschbacher said, “He puts facts on the table that you need to consider as you develop.”

“And in a way it also helps us in our argumentation because you have one clear player developing,” he added. “We need to catch up in some areas. … But I think it also energizes and empowers our engineers and our scientists to make sure we have good solutions to move forward on this. So overall I think that this really helps the space industry.”

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