Dark matter hunter and 4 other European spacecraft need rockets after Russia invasion

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Five European spacecraft, including a telescope searching for dark matter and dark energy, were left without a launch ticket after Russia stopped supplying rockets to Europe in response to economic sanctions against the invasion from Ukraine.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is now looking for alternatives to put these spacecraft into orbit.

“We are setting up a group of external experts to help assess the situation,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said during a press conference held virtually on Thursday, March 17. “In about a month, I expect the results to be in. And then we’ll see what the realistic launch opportunity scenario is in the months and years to come.”

Related: Impacts of the Invasion of Ukraine on Space Exploration: Live Updates

European launch supplier Arianespace offers launches on the Russian middleweight Soyuz rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, since 2011. The Russian workhorse launcher conveniently complemented Europe’s lightweight Vega and heavyweight Ariane 5. Russia, however, ended the cooperation on February 26 and withdrew its personnel from the facility in response to sanctions imposed by European states in response to the invasion of Ukraine. (ESA represents 22 core member states; Ukraine is not one of them.)

In April, two satellites of the European navigation constellation Galileo (an alternative to the American GPS) were to be launched on Soyuz. The Earth observation satellite Earthcare, part of the European climate monitoring constellation Copernicus, had its ticket for a ride on a Soyuz booked for March 2023. ESA has also scheduled a Soyuz launch in 2023 for his Euclid Telescopewhich will study the expansion of the universe and look for proof of black matter and dark energy. A French national satellite was also blocked, Aschbacher said.

He added that the agency will attempt more frequent launches of Vega and Arianne, but may also seek to purchase launch services from other countries in case it cannot meet demand using domestic resources in a reasonable time.

In addition to its existing launchers, Europe is currently working on maiden flights of two new rockets. Vega C, a more powerful version of the Vega Rocket, is expected to take flight for the first time in late May. The Ariane 6 jumbo jet, already delayed for several years, still has a few steps to go before launch, including a hot-firing test of its upper stage.

Aschbacher said that only after these steps are taken can ESA establish a new frequency of launches from Kourou.

Europe, however, could run into trouble with its Vega family of rockets, which uses Ukrainian-made engines in its first stage. The Yuzmash factory, based in Ukraine’s space capital of Dnipro, has so far not been targeted by Russian missiles, according to Ukrainian sources. However, the future of the plant is uncertain.

ESA is therefore looking for a possible replacement technology that would be manufactured in ESA member states, Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transport, said at the press conference.

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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