SpaceX to launch European navigation satellites as EU launchers stall

SpaceX will launch four navigation satellites for the European Space Agency (ESA) amid ongoing delays with homegrown next-generation launch vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to break the news. Earlier this summer, Politico reported that the European Commission was looking abroad for a launcher for the Galileo satellites, though at the time United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan system was also under consideration.

SpaceX signed the agreement with ESA for two Falcon 9 launches in 2024, each carrying two “Galileo” navigation satellites. The deal is pending final approval from the European Commission and EU member states, which will likely happen before the year is out, according to WSJ reporting.

Europe would have preferred to use one of its own rockets — like the long-delayed Ariane 6 or Vega-C — but was essentially forced to look farther afield due to the technical holdups in these rocket development programs. Soyuz, Russia’s workhorse rocket, is also off the table due to that country’s ongoing war with Ukraine.

ESA is especially keen to get additional Galileo satellites online because they help maintain a European global satellite navigation-system that’s entirely independent of that of the United States and China. The satellites, which contain classified equipment, are capable of beaming encrypted navigation communications for European military.

This will be the first time in 15 years that Galileo satellites are launched from outside Europe and the first time that SpaceX will launch European satellites that contain classified equipment. But this is far from the first time that SpaceX has worked with Europe — the company launched a Euclid telescope for the ESA in July and will launch at least two other European spacecraft.