Euclid Launch Delay

Until relatively recently we al thought the European Space Agency’s  Euclid mission would take place later this year (2022). For various reasons that date subsequently slipped to the first quarter of 2023.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine which, because Euclid was intended to be launched on a Russian Soyuz vehicle a further delay seemed likely (see here). The subsequent decision by the Russians to remove all their personnel from the launch site at Kourou (see here) made these even more likely as an alternative launch vehicle would have to be used.

There was an update about the situation at the recent Euclid Consortium meeting in Oslo which I could not attend but which I referred to here. The basic problem is that Plan B involves launching Euclid on an Ariane 6 rocket (which comes in two varieties, Ariane62 and Ariane64, with two and four boosters respectively). The problems are (a) that Ariane 6 is that it hasn’t yet had its first flight and (b) Euclid isn’t the only spacecraft now having to find an alternative launcher. The competition from commercial and military satellites may mean a lengthy delay to the Euclid Launch unless lobbying succeeds at a political level.

It has now emerged that earliest feasible date for launch on an Ariane 6 rocket is the 3rd quarter of 2024 and it may well be later than that, the uncertainty exacerbating the effects of the delay itself.

This is all very unfortunate. Euclid is now fully built and ready so a lengthy delay would be very damaging to morale. More concretely, many researchers employed to work on Euclid are on fixed-term contracts which will now expire before they can complete their work. This will have a very serious effect on younger researchers. To keep everything going while the spacecraft waits for a launch will be extremely expensive: the Euclid Consortium Board estimates a cost of about €50M for every year of delay and it is by no means clear where those funds would come from.

It seems to me that the best hope for a resolution of this problem would be for ESA to permit the launch of Euclid using something other than Ariane 6, which means using a vehicle supplied by an independent commercial operator. I sincerely hope ESA is able to come up with an imaginative solution to this very serious problem.

P.S. With this update, the odds on me retiring before Euclid is launched have just shortened considerably…

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10 Responses to “Euclid Launch Delay”

  1. Shantanu Says:

    Peter: what’s the current status of eRosita? do you know how long it can remain in safe mode?

  2. Licia Verde Says:

    humm… Let me see if I get this straight… ESA is mostly funded by public (i.e. taxpayers) money. Euclid is also mostly publicly funded (again, thank you taxpayers). Commercial launches are likely not for publicly-funded projects.
    Any delay in Euclid launch due to political circumstances will be covered by… taxpayers money(?). If this is correct it seems to imply that taxpayers money will subsidise the extra cost needed to keep commercial launches on track..?

    • telescoper Says:

      They’re funded from different pots though which shouldn’t matter but sometimes those on high can’t see the bigger picture..

  3. Chris_C Says:

    The problem for Euclid is that ESA Council DOES see the big picture, where space science is only one component (relatively small in financial terms), competing for launch slots with comms, nav, EO, … in ESA programmes, plus EU and EUMETSAT launches, and also with national priorities in Member States, including defence launches as well as things like OneWeb. Commercial launches are easiest to shift…

  4. Does this delay account for the recently announced delay of the first Ariane 6 launch to early 2023?

  5. Would changing to another rocket make it possible to launch much sooner? I think all (western, at least) launchers are quite heavily booked and using something that the spacecraft wasn’t originally designed for would require at least analysis and possible even some modifications to make sure that the launch environment (vibrations etc.) is isn’t too rough.

  6. Chris_C Says:

    The choice is essentially Falcon 9 or wait for Ariane 6. The ExoMars rover has a much trickier problem. As well as the Russian launcher, the landing platform was Russian, and the radioactive heaters were Russian too; the general rule for getting a licence to launch radioactive material is that the material must come from the same state that issues the launch licence (so Russia for Proton or Soyuz from Baikonur, US for Falcon 9, Atlas etc, and France for Ariane/Kourou).

  7. […] few months ago I posted a piece about the European Space Agency’s Euclid Mission which had been due to be launched in 2023 on […]

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