25 thoughts on “Europe’s Response To The SpaceX Challenge”

  1. Because of this, the French and Italian ministers are calling for Europe to offer a significant “technological and industrial” response to the rise of SpaceX. It is not clear what form this would take, nor how quickly the European nations could move in response.

    Obviously the answer is simple and sitting right in front of their regulatory voting button in the EU Parliament. A vote YES on a ban of any EU payloads on SpaceX rockets. There. Problem solved.

    1. I realize you are being arch, here, but it’s far from impossible the Euros might try something very much along those lines. I think it was Einstein who said, “For every problem there is a solution which is simple, elegant… and wrong.” Such a move would be ineffective, self-injurious and, thus, short-lived.

      Private-sector European launch customers of the old-school type – mainly GEO comsat outfits – would find themselves quickly stuck with both cadence limits and much higher launch costs. This would render them both less competitive and less happy.

      “New-school” European launch customers with LEO smallsats to deploy would be put at an even worse disadvantage anent both cadence and costs. More unhappy campers. Many more.

      I think the political advantage would likely lie with the Euro launch users rather than with the notional narrow Arianespace-Avio-Eurocrat alliance.

      1. Even more pull than that, the Euro-educational-collegiate system wanting to leverage SpaceX rockets for small-sat, cube-sat experiments. They would certainly *demand* a carve-out from any such legislation at a *minimum*.

        But yes, agreed, as you surmised, my /sarc. Such a ruling would certainly be the beginning of the death knell for Eurospace.

        Let’s hope they don’t fall down into the easy path / regulatory hole.

  2. Europe’s problem is not too dissimilar to that faced by all traditional launcher manufacturers: 1) their business model was formed around government funding and political largess; 2) to date, launch markets have shown insufficient elasticity to justify the investment required to develop reusable launch systems. Combining these two issues with the fact that launchers were developed by large organisations, where strategic decisions are made by committee, makes it virtually impossible for them to respond to the challenges raised by SpaceX… where Elon seems to only have to says “make it so” to get things done!

    Given this situation, I think their only real hope lies in new small ventures teaming with the likes of SpaceX to exploit the new in-space business opportunities that this paradigm shift in space access will enable. That said, I suspect the ‘usual suspects’ will continue to follow the government money… until they fade into irrelevance, sometime around the end of the decade.

  3. I am fully confidant that ESA can come up with a design to compete with the Falcon 9, and do so in every way but cost.

    I am also fully confident that the new launch system will be ready to fly by not more than a decade after the Falcon 9 is replaced by Starship and retired.

    1. It will take five years(at least) for the bureaucrats in the EU to negotiate how the pork will be divvied out. Germany gets the main fuselage, Italy gets the tail fins, Malta gets the safety lamps, and such terribly momentous decisions will will require multiple bureaucracies to work with all due diligence (and a few hefty bribes).

  4. The problem is that they are Euroweenies. You aren’t allowed to do anything until the government has a law or regulation to govern it.
    Ask the Volocopter guys. They had to wait to fly their aircraft outdoors and untethered until EASA had invented the “Manned multicopter” airworthiness category. The Euroweenies aren’t smart enough to adopt the FAA’s Part 21 Experimental Categories.
    I imagine it will be the same with participants, some paying, in human spaceflight where the vehicle will need to be “fully certified” under an EASA “Human Occupied Spaceship” Spaceworthiness regulatory category before being allowed to operate.
    Exactly how you gain the necessary experience to write sensible Regulations for a new category of flying machine seems to be being ignored.

  5. “Basically, [ESA] provided about $600,000, each, to three companies … to study competitive launch systems from 2030 onward.”

    $1.8 million total to study “competive launch systems” for the foreseeable future? Really? That’s less than the EU’s grandees spend on hookers and blow in a Davos weekend. So, obviously, the bureaucrats are instead planning to fund a different but very old strategy to defeat SpaceEx …

    Whenever apparatchiks are confronted with competition their response is predictable: Lie about their failures. Change the rules. Lie some more. Repeat. Just another example proving President Truman’s aphorism that “the only news you hear is the history you don’t know.”

    Easy prediction: Fueled by false accusations designed to manipulate a technically-ignorant press (redundant, I know) all sorts of silly roadblocks will be put up to stop SpacEx, mostly involving BS stories about polluting rockets and space junk — and remember, only SpacEx’s reuseable rockets pollute!

    The smear campaign will be kicked off by the EU, China, and Russia, but the heavy-lifting lies will be spun by lapdogs in the US gubmint and American media (right, redundant again).

    Any day now expect Congress to accuse SpacEx of racism/misogyny/homophobia/hating trans-children while Bezos’ Washington Post (i.e., ‘Blue Origin’s propaganda arm’) will continue attacks on the company disguised as criticism of Mr. Musk (inevitably described as “that supermodel-divorcing South African pothead who [winkwink] ‘claims’ to have opposed apartheid”).

    Yeah, our civilization is in the very best of hands, which is why Musk and like-minded folks need to get humanity off this trainwreck asap, because if the apparatchiks win it’s the Dark Ages all over again (and without Monty Python to make it funny).

    1. Loved the “hookers and blow” thing!

      But I don’t foresee a worldwide campaign to try turning Elon Musk into Emmanuel Goldstein. Mr. Musk is not without PR resources of his own and is also well-practiced in playing the cheeky and amusing cards – something his putative opponents decidedly lack.

      Under ordinary circumstances, one would find it hard to imagine that a multi-national industrialist and the 2nd-richest man on Earth could be turned into a popular plucky underdog, but any such campaign as you posit would quickly have exactly that effect – simply enhancing Musk’s already extant tech-rock-star image into that of a put-upon rebel sticking it to The Man.

      In any pissing contest between Musk and Bezos/Davos, there’s not much doubt who’s going to be Bond and who’s going to be Blofeld.

  6. Game theory: accept defeat, cancel sunk costs, capitalize on the success of your opponent to further your advancement in the larger game.

    The opportunity exists to use their opponent’s strength to their own advantage, to subvert the opposition.

    The game isn’t launch. The game is what you do with launch.

    1. The problem with that, of course, is that there are far fewer European entities doing anything new or interesting in the way of applications of launch as opposed to old and uninteresting ones – e.g., GEO comsats.

      In the end, Eurocrats looking for a Eurocratic answer to the SpaceX problem simply aren’t going to find one, not least because their actual problem extends well beyond merely SpaceX vs. Arianegroup and Avio.

      1. I don’t disagree. Moving away from the focus in launch requires a shift in mindset and to be successful in the long term, a shift in other structural mindsets.

        It really depends on why they want launch. It doesn’t matter if they participate in the market or not and they may not be competing in the same game(s) as other spacefaring nations. It becomes a question of whether or not they view spending money is worth whatever benefit they think they get.

  7. Europe could have developed a much better rocket over a decade ago. Back then French CNES and the Russians were working on a LOX/LCH4 staged combustion engine. One of the proposals from CNES was to use that engine on a reusable first stage with an expendable Vinci second stage. However that engine project was terminated as the US Space Launch Initiative petered out. i.e. it was terminated shortly after the Rocketdyne RS-84 engine was terminated.

    Instead ESA funded the Ariane 6 and Vega rockets which were supposed to use solids and cost basically no extra fundamental R&D. The French liked that idea since this meant they could reuse much of the same infrastructure they required for their SLBM program. You know the drill. The US went through a similar routine with the Shuttle solid rockets as well.

    The results are what we have.

  8. As for capsules, the French tested the basic technologies with ARD in the 1990s. But with the cancellation of the European Columbus space station the European manned space efforts were basically canned.

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