With its Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX revolutionized space launches. On December 6, 2020, the launcher even signed its hundredth successful launch. The particularity of this rocket? It is reusable. The Falcon 9 today dominates the launch industry worldwide and Europe is starting to ask questions. ESA (European Space Agency) has announced the launch of an initiative to explore future space transportation solutions.
Europe tries to catch up on SpaceX
ESA has just awarded a grant of 500,000 euros to three companies : ArianeGroup, Avio and Rocket Factory Augsburg. The European space agency asks them to study innovative launch systems to cope with SpaceX technologies. Goal : market these rockets from 2030. ESA wants to prepare for the future of space launches and above all to catch up with the United States and China.
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Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transportation at the European Space Agency said: “This work should make it possible to lay the foundations which will enable us to prepare for the future beyond Ariane 6 and Vega-C. As part of these studies of new concepts, our companies will give priority to the needs of future European space programs, but will also try to meet the needs of the world market for commercial satellites ”.
The Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets already overtaken by the Falcon 9
While waiting for these new launchers, they are good Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets which will allow Europe to carry out launches over the next 8 years. They are expected to debut in the next 12-18 months. However, ESA knows that these two rockets will not be sufficiently competitive on the world market. The development of new rockets is expensive and to make the costs profitable, manufacturers hope to attract commercial satellite launches … SpaceX is in a better position to do this.
The economy ministers of France and Italy recently agreed that: “Since 2014, when the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets were designed, the launcher market has radically changed. Since the development of the Falcon 9 by SpaceX, the ability of these new European rockets to compete for commercial launch contracts has deteriorated considerably ”.
The difference between European rockets and SpaceX rockets? The Falcon 9 is reusable. The same Falcon 9 launcher even made its ninth flight a few days ago to send satellites of the Starlink constellation into orbit around the Earth… It is a record. While European rockets once played a prominent role in launching satellites, they have lost a considerable market share since 2014. Europe is now lagging behind SpaceX, not to mention the imminent arrival of the Super Heavy, a gigantic rocket with 24 Raptor engines.