Ariane 6, Vega-C, Microlaunchers: ESA Looks to Full Range of Launch Options for European Institutional Missions

Artist’s view of Ariane 6 and Vega-C. (Credit: ESA – D. Ducros)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher today underscored the Agency’s determination to ensure that ESA’s work in space is not derailed by the tragic events in Ukraine. Mr Aschbacher stresses that work continues to assess the impact on each ongoing programme, including on missions affected by Roscosmos’ withdrawal of Soyuz launch operations from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

In addition, ESA is preparing proposals that, if endorsed by its Member States, will further support European microlauncher services to complement the Ariane and Vega programmes, which form the backbone of Europe’s space transportation capability.

“ESA’s strength is in the deep and enduring international cooperation which has made Europe a leader in the global space community,” he says. “Today we face unparalleled challenges, but I am confident that together our Member States can build for Europe a stronger and even more robust capability.”

First, says Mr Aschbacher, ESA continues to implement the sanctions on Russia decided by its Member States and to assess their impact on ongoing programmes. This work continues in close coordination with industrial and international partners.

For missions affected by Roscosmos’ withdrawal of Soyuz launches from Europe’s Spaceport and for which ESA is the launch service procuring entity, being Galileo M10, Galileo M11, Euclid and EarthCare– ESA is assessing the Ariane 6 and Vega-C launch services, and will propose a baseline and back-up option for each of these missions in anticipation of the ESA Council meeting in June. Regular exchanges between ESA and EC are addressing the Galileo launch services.

ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander adds that work continues on mitigation measures to secure the continuity of Vega-C launch services and on ensuring the maximum Ariane 6 launch services for institutional missions in the period 2023/2024.

Second, in line with ESA’s Agenda 2025 vision of developing an increasingly autonomous and commercially robust European space capability, ESA is also assessing opportunities to exploit so-called microlauncher services currently under development by private companies in Europe.

“We are requesting European companies working on microlaunchers to give us robust technical information about the state of their developments” says Mr Neuenschwander.

The objective, he adds, is to make sound proposals about their potential to support European institutional missions to the ESA Council at Ministerial level, to be held in November 2022. Those proposals may include a request to initiate a competitive selection process for a price of a microlauncher service to launch an ESA mission, potentially in 2024.

“With a realistic view of development milestones and associated launch dates, we allow European microlauncher services companies to qualify and compete for this individual launch of an ESA mission,” says Mr Neuenschwander.

He adds: “ESA’s Space Transportation role is to safeguard Europe’s independent access to space, enable activities in space and soon, offer return-to-Earth capability.”