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Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is enjoying considerable success launching – and then landing – his reusable rockets into space. They frequently carry valuable communications satellites for Europe’s SES and Eutelsat, and in doing so take valuable revenues away from Europe’s near-moribund Arianespace launcher.
The success of SpaceX has, according to Jean-Yves Le Gall, who used to run Arianespace but now heads up the French space agency CNES, delivered a “wake up call” to Europe’s space sector. “Six to nine months ago many in Europe thought Elon Musk was just hot air, even among the big shots in the space industry. But he showed he was able to do it, to potentially reuse rockets one day. He’s clearly shaking things up,” Le Gall told news service Bloomberg.
The problem for Arianespace, and its suppliers which employ around 38,000 European jobs, is that Arianespace is years away from even beginning to match Elon Musk’s current achievements.
Arianespace is re-designing its rockets in order to lower costs for clients, but the very first of these models will not be ready for flight-testing until 2020, and perhaps later. And as for a re-usable rocket, New Yorkers have a nice slang word for the prospects: ‘fuhgettaboutit!’
Arianespace only announced their general plan (‘Prometheus’) for a re-usable rocket last week, so any launch will be some considerable way off, perhaps as much as 10 years.
Le Gall told Bloomberg: “What we want it is to stand ready should re-usability become a reality.” Some ten years ago when Musk turned up at a space conference in torn jeans and just carrying a plastic bag he audaciously told the assembled rocket launch specialists that they were “all dead”. Arianespace responded by publishing ‘knocking copy’ advertising that said “You talk. We launch.” Today, the boot is very definitely on the other foot.
SpaceX is planning its next launch on June 15th when it will carry satellites for Eutelsat and ABS, and then attempt another landing of its Falcon-9 first stage.