Elon Musk and the EU are Going to Space Together

The European Space Agency has contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch navigation satellites next year, The Wall Street Journal reported.

(Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash)

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Elon Musk isn’t especially popular in Europe, but he’s more popular than Vladimir Putin, who the EU used to depend on to launch their birds.

The European Space Agency has grudgingly contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch navigation satellites into orbit next year, The Wall Street Journal reported. SpaceX may not have been Europe’s first option — or even its fifth — but right now, Musk is their only hope.

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The ESA will use SpaceX’s Falcon rockets to send up to four Galileo satellites into space next year from the US, bolstering the bloc’s autonomous global positioning system that delivers encrypted data to militaries and law enforcement. The contract still needs approval from a handful of EU member states, but it’s likely to be cleared by the end of the year.

While some European officials believe the bloc shouldn’t rely on US business or US-based launches for space infrastructure, delays in homegrown rocket programs have left no alternatives:

  • SpaceX has swooped into Europe and capitalized on the high-demand rocket market. Launch companies in France, Spain, Germany, and more are still facing technical difficulties with their upcoming models, and Italy’s Vega C failed during a launch last December, destroying two Airbus satellites.
  • The EU would normally tap Soyuz rockets from Russia, but after Vladimir Putin commenced an invasion of Ukraine last year, the models have become technologia non grata.

It’s not clear yet how much the deal is worth, but a SpaceX launch typically costs around $62 million.

Not Meant to Last: Musk doesn’t have the best relationship with the EU. He recently considered removing the X social media platform entirely from the bloc in response to the Digital Services Act, which aims to prevent the spread of harmful content, Insider reported. He also sparred with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who said X allows the sharing of disinformation on the Israel-Hamas conflict. The ESA’s Javier Benedicto told the WSJ he doesn’t think the group will look to contract SpaceX for further launches. It’s less of a marriage and more of a fling.