Eumetsat moves the weather satellite from Ariane 6 to Falcon 9

WASHINGTON — European weather satellite operator Eumetsat has changed the upcoming launch of a weather satellite from an Ariane 6 to a Falcon 9, a decision that surprised and frustrated European space officials.

In a June 28 statement, Eumetsat said the Meteosat Third Generation-Sounder 1 (MTG-S1) geostationary weather satellite will now launch on a Falcon 9 in 2025. The spacecraft was previously planned to launch in early 2025 on an Ariane 6.

“This decision is due to exceptional circumstances,” Phil Evans, director general of Eumetsat, said in a statement, but did not elaborate on the circumstances. “It does not compromise our usual policy of supporting European partners, and we look forward to a successful launch by SpaceX for this masterpiece of European technology.”

The spacecraft is the second in Meteosat’s line of third-generation geostationary orbit meteorological satellites, following the launch of MTG-I1 on one of the last Ariane 5 rockets in December 2022. MTG-S1 is the first to carry a sounding instrument that can provide vertical profiles of temperature and water vapour to improve weather forecasting.

Eumetsat noted in its statement that MTG-S1 “will bring a revolution for weather forecasting and climate monitoring” and suggested it move the launch to the Falcon 9 to ensure it launched as scheduled.

“Its launch will ensure that national meteorological services can benefit from new and more accurate data to protect lives, property and infrastructure,” he said. “As such, EUMETSAT Member States have decided to award a launch service contract to SpaceX for the launch of the Meteosat Third Generation-Sounder 1 (MTG-S1) satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket in 2025.”

The agency did not respond to questions about the change in launch submitted before issuing the statement. The change in launch was first reported on June 27 by the French newspaper. The world.

The change appears to have come as a surprise to the leaders of European space organisations, who publicly expressed shock and disappointment at Eumetsat’s decision not to use Ariane 6 less than two weeks before that rocket’s planned debut.

“It is clear that today is a very disappointing day for European space efforts,” Philippe Baptiste, director of the French space agency CNES, said in a social media post. He said the decision was “a pretty brutal change” given the timing of it.

“I am looking forward to understanding the reasons that may have led Eumetsat to take such a decision, at a time when all the major European countries involved in the space sector, as well as the European Commission, are calling for the launch of European satellites on European launchers,” he wrote.

He called on the European Commission to implement a kind of “buy European” regulation that would require European government missions to launch European rockets. “This illustrates, once again, the burning need for strong European coordination on space matters.”

Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency, also called Eumetsat’s decision “surprising.” A social media post from June 29. “It’s hard to understand, especially since Ariane 6 is on track for its maiden flight on July 9, and everything will unfold nominally.”

He noted that Eumetsat’s decision would not affect the acceleration of Ariane 6 launches, assuming the inaugural launch in July is a success. A second launch, which would be a commercial launch managed by Arianespace, is planned before the end of the year.

Arianespace has an order book of 30 Ariane 6 launches, Caroline Arnoux, head of Ariane 6 programs at Arianespace, said at an ESA briefing on June 25. That includes 18 Project Kuiper satellite launches for Amazon, along with other commercial and government customers.

He said Arianespace anticipated six Ariane 6 launches in 2025, increasing to eight in 2026 and 10 in 2027. The vehicle’s maximum flight rate is projected to be 9 to 12 launches a year.

Lucía Linares, head of space transportation strategy and institutional launches at ESA, emphasized in that briefing the importance of government customers for Ariane 6. “First of all, we have developed Ariane 6 – designed, developed and now close to the inaugural launch. to serve European institutional missions,” she said. “This is the main reason why the public sector finances this launcher and why we are guaranteed access to space.”

However, Eumetsat is not the first European institutional customer to choose the Falcon 9 for its launches, particularly during the “launcher crisis” that has limited European access to space. ESA launched its Euclid space telescope on a Falcon 9 a year ago, followed in May by the launch of EarthCARE, a joint Earth science mission with the Japanese space agency JAXA. Another Falcon 9 will launch ESA’s Hera mission in October.

The European Commission also selected the Falcon 9 to launch the Galileo navigation satellites: a Falcon 9 will launch a pair of satellites in April and another pair is scheduled to launch later this year.

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