The modern space race is heating up, and the European Union is acutely aware that it needs to keep pace. Space chief Thierry Breton told Reuters in an interview that the EU is accelerating its plans in light of rapid progress by private companies like SpaceX as well as China’s successes.
It’s moving the deployment of its Galileo navigation satellites ahead by three years, to 2024, and will use its budget for the first time to support reusable rockets and other new launch tech. The EU is also forging a €1 billion deal with Arianespace to spur innovation, and will propose a €1 billion European Space Fund and competitions to foster startups.
Breton also hoped to launch a pan-European satellite broadband network as well as a system to avoid collisions with satellites and other items in orbit.
There may be good reason to hurry. The EU has been pushing for independence from other countries’ space systems, and that’s difficult with slower, non-reusable rocket launches and a reliance on the US’ GPS satellite constellation.
Whether or not it can is another matter. The EU is still grappling with the realities of the pandemic, and there’s no guarantee spaceflight will receive a large-enough budget when many other things need urgent attention.
SpaceX pulls off its first double fairing catch after a Falcon 9 launch
Part of the SpaceX mission has been to create reusable rockets that make spaceflight cheaper, and it has become routine to see the company’s booster rockets return safely to Earth. With today’s launch SpaceX set a new milestone by catching both halves of the nosecone fairing, according to a tweet from CEO Elon Musk.
He’s previously said the parts are worth about $6 million, and while the company has reused some after they landed in the sea or a ship caught one half, it’s potentially cheaper to get them back undamaged if both fall into a net.