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For the past 20 years, the European Space Agency (ESA) has not had to wonder how its satellites and spacecraft will get into space, as Europe has had its powerful Ariane 5 rocket. This reliable launch vehicle was withdrawn from service last summer, and its successor, Ariane 6, is not yet ready. As a result, Europe had no choice but to look for alternatives, and it ended up with the American space company SpaceX.
Elon Musk’s rocket company has struck a deal to launch up to four Galileo navigation satellites for the European Union. The powerful Ariane 5 rocket has been in operation since the late 1990s and has launched important missions such as the International Space Station’s ATV resupply vehicles, the Rosetta comet lander, and the James Webb Space Telescope. The latest launch in 2021 went so perfectly that it will likely double the telescope’s life. In addition, Atian 5 rockets have also ferried dozens of heavy communications satellites into space for several international satellite operators. The Ariane 5 rocket ended its legendary life in July 2023 with a simple launch of a communications satellite.
The deal with SpaceX will see Europe’s Galileo satellites launched from American soil, the Wall Street Journal reported, a first of its kind for the European Space Agency. All previous Galileo satellites were launched from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, with Russian Soyuz rockets for initial missions and Ariane 5 rockets for subsequent missions. All of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch infrastructure is located in the United States. For example, Falcon 9 rockets are always launched from Florida or California. This will be the first time that SpaceX launches European satellites equipped with secret systems into space.
The European Space Agency had hoped the Ariane 6 rocket would be operational by now, but a series of delays have delayed the debut of this new rocket until 2024 at the earliest. Recently, the European Space Agency postponed a crucial test of the new Vulcan 2.1 engine, and a long-duration static fire test, which was initially scheduled for this month, is now scheduled for November or later. However, this left ESA with few options other than searching for a commercial launch partner. NASA is currently focusing on the superheavy Space Launch System (SLS) for launching missions to the Moon, and has launched smaller payloads into space for several years using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. A Russian Soyuz rocket can launch Galileo satellites into space, as was the case in the past, but Europe has imposed sanctions on Russia since the start of the Ukrainian invasion last year.
The Galileo Navigation Project is a vital component of Europe’s technological independence. Galileo offers an alternative to the American GPS and the Russian GLONASS. Launches are expected to take place in 2024. Today there are 30 Galileo navigation satellites operating in 3 orbits around the Earth at an altitude of about 23,222 km.
source: Extreme Tech
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