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ESA moves two missions to Falcon 9

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WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency now plans to launch a space telescope and an asteroid mission on Falcon 9 rockets due to loss of access to Soyuz instruments and delays in the launch of Ariane 6.

At a press briefing on October 20 following a meeting of the ESA Council, ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher said the agency has decided to launch the Euclidean astrophysics mission in 2024 on Hera, a Falcon 9 and an asteroid mission in 2024.

Euclid, a cosmology mission involving a space telescope operating at the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange point, was originally planned to launch on the Soyuz, but needed a new launch vehicle after Russia halted Soyuz launch operations from French Guiana in response to Western sanctions. . Falcon 9 had emerged as a possible option to launch Euclid, something confirmed on Oct. 17 by NASA officials, who said ESA is conducting a feasibility study of using Falcon 9 to launch Euclid.

Euclid was one of two ESA missions scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz. The other, an Earth science mission called EarthCARE, will be launched in Europe’s Vega C, Ashcbacher said.

Hera is a mission that will fly to the near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moon Dimorphos, the target of NASA’s Double Asteroid Orientation Test (DART) mission that collided with Dimorphos last month. Hera will study asteroids, including the effects of the DART collision on Dimorfos.

Hera was scheduled to launch with the Ariane 6 at the end of 2024, Aschbacher said, which is no longer viable given the recent delay in the initial Ariane 6 launch, which ESA announced on October 19. It won’t be possible to launch on Ariane 6. “Therefore, this will be launched on Falcon 9.

ESA did not disclose the cost of shifting missions to the Falcon 9, including any Soyuz launch contract deposits it may lose with the change. ESA science director Günther Hasinger said the change would have a “positive impact” on the science budget because it would save time instead of waiting for a launch in Europe. “I think this is a positive move for the science budget.”

Other missions can also be affected by Ariane 6 delays. ESA director of navigation Francisco-Javier Benedicto Ruiz said that ESA and the European Union must resume the launch of Galileo satellites in late 2023 or early 2024, which was put on hold due to the loss of Soyuz and Ariane 6 delays to preserve navigation. constellation at full strength.

“Ariane 6 is our preferred option,” he said. “We will be monitoring the planning of Ariane 6 in the coming months. In the meantime, we have launched actions to look for non-European launch service options.” He said he expects a decision in the first half of 2023 on how to launch the next Galileo satellites, currently manifesting on the second Ariane 6 flight.

Another mission affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is ExoMars, which will launch in September with a Proton to send the Rosalind Franklin rover to Mars. Aschbacher said ESA member states will make a decision on the future of the mission at their ministerial meeting in November.

The preferred option is to launch ExoMars in 2028, which would require a new landing module to be built to replace the one Russia supplied. David Parker, director of human and robotics exploration at ESA, said the agency will seek funding at the ministry to begin work on the new module, but has not disclosed the budget for it.

Aschbacher said he is still investigating whether the rover is still scientifically useful, even if the mission launches in 2028 and reaches Mars in 2030. The mission is designed to pierce the surface in search of evidence of past Martian life.

This review, presented at the ESA Council meeting, confirmed that these scientific goals remain valid, even if the mission is postponed to the end of the decade. “The project scientist presented the science case and got a round of applause at the end, because within minutes he had the audience mesmerized by the mission’s scientific goals.”