SpaceX is partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch up to four satellites next year amid setbacks with the region’s latest homegrown rocket, Ariane 6.
The news of the partnership between SpaceX and ESA was first reported on by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), however, the agreement requires final approval from the European Commission and other EU member states before taking effect. Earlier this summer, Politico reported that the Commission was looking abroad for a launcher for the Galileo satellites.
The European Commission, along with EU member states, must still give final approval for the deal. That is likely to happen before the end of the year .Wall Street Journal
SpaceX plans two Falcon 9 launches, each with two Galileo satellites on board, ESA’s director of navigation Javier Benedicto told the WSJ. The ESA’s Galileo constellation provides navigation services around the world.
The upcoming missions will mark the first time that SpaceX launches EU satellites carrying classified equipment, the WSJ noted, and the first time in 15 years that Galileo spacecraft will launch from a non-European territory. “That [carrying classified information] has prompted the US and the EU to start talks on an agreement to protect classified information in the satellites,” the WSJ clarified.
As the US and China accelerate space exploration, Europe is struggling to achieve its ambitions in the space sector, especially after ending cooperation with Russia in February 2022. All Galileo satellites orbiting Earth were launched aboard Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket, retired recently, or the Russian Soyuz.
Galileo is Europe’s equivalent of the US’ Global Positioning System (GPS), China’s Beidou or Russia’s GLONASS — an orbiting network that allows users to know exactly where they are and helps them figure out where they’re going in real time.
In the most recent delay for the Ariane 6 rocket, the ESA rescheduled a long-duration firing test to November 23 from October 3, after finding a problem with hydraulic equipment. The Paris-based agency aims to use the Ariane 6 to launch Galileo satellites in the future.
Galileo became operational in 2016 and currently consist of 23 operational satellites. As the upcoming launches reveal, Europe aims to continue expanding the constellation.