In an annual press conference on the year ahead, held on 23 January, ESA’s director-general Josef Aschbacher detailed a spate of technical and political challenges that are severely hampering Europe’s ability to launch satellites and other craft. Among these are the loss of European access to Russia’s Soyuz rockets, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the European responses to it. “That means that as of mid this year, we do not have guaranteed access to space for use of our European launchers, and this is a huge problem for us, for all of us” Aschbacher said.
Vega-C and Ariane 6
In addition to the Russian freeze-out, ESA has suffered several technical launch failures since 2019, Aschbacher reminded the press. Last year, the inaugural flight of the Vega-C rocket went off without a hitch in July, but in December another Vega-C mission ended in failure and the destruction of the launcher after a sudden decrease in pressure, the cause of which is still being investigated.
Aschbacher said the agency was taking “several measures…to make sure we put everything on the management side on track to proceed and advance as quick as we can” with improving European access to space. As well as the work on Vega-C and Ariane 6, he said ESA would support the development of small, mini or micro-European launchers, capable of lofting payloads of up to one ton. ESA is exploring the use of a competition to launch payloads with such launchers, he said. But more generally on the transportation problems, he warned: “We need to really work on this to get back, to guarantee access to space for Europe again.”
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