ESA and EU Partner to Boost Launch Industry with New Program

The European Flight Ticket Initiative, a collaboration between ESA and EU, selects Arianespace and startups Isar Aerospace, Orbex, PLD Space, and Rocket Factory Augsburg. This move aims to boost demand for European launch services and marks a step toward increased competition in the European launch sector, signaling a shift in launcher policy within the EU framework.

ESA and EU Partner to Boost Launch Industry with Flight Ticket Initiative
Image: ESA

ESA and EU Partner to Boost Launch Industry with Flight Ticket Initiative

Brussels, January 24, 2024 – Marking a significant shift in the European space landscape, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission have joined forces to launch the “European Flight Ticket Initiative.” This ambitious program aims to stimulate the European launch service sector by providing flight opportunities for innovative technologies aboard both established and emerging launch vehicles.

Five Launch Companies Selected for Initiative

The initiative, unveiled during the European Space Conference in Brussels, selected five launch companies to participate:

  • Arianespace: A veteran player in the industry, offering rideshare opportunities on its Vega C and Ariane 6 rockets.
  • Isar Aerospace: A German startup developing the Spectrum reusable launch vehicle.
  • Orbex: A UK-based company working on the Prime orbital microlauncher.
  • PLD Space: A Spanish startup aiming to launch the Miura 5 light launch vehicle.
  • Rocket Factory Augsburg: A German company developing the RFA One microlauncher.

Boosting Innovation and Competition in European Launch Sector

The Flight Ticket Initiative seeks to achieve two key objectives:

  • Supporting new technologies: By offering subsidized launches for demonstration and validation missions, the program aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of promising space technologies.
  • Stimulating competition: Integrating startups and new entrants into the launch market fosters healthy competition, ultimately driving down costs and improving services for European institutions and private companies alike.

European Commission Takes Ownership of Launch Policy

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, emphasized the European Commission’s commitment to playing a more prominent role in shaping European launch policy. He outlined three key areas of focus:

  • Aggregating European demand: Consolidating launch requirements from ESA, the EU, and national governments under a “clear European preference” to strengthen the European launch sector.
  • Investing in innovation: Promoting “game-changing” advancements in launch technology through initiatives like the European Launcher Challenge announced in November 2023.
  • Developing launch infrastructure: Supporting investments in critical ground infrastructure, including test facilities, to further enhance European launch capabilities.

Building a Sustainable European Launch Ecosystem

Breton’s vision extends beyond the Flight Ticket Initiative, aiming to incorporate a comprehensive “access to space” component within the next EU space program. This ambitious strategy, encompassing research and development, deployment, and operational readiness, underscores the EU’s long-term commitment to fostering a robust and independent European launch ecosystem.

ESA and EU Forge Strong Partnership

Representatives of ESA, the European Commission and five launch companies at a Jan. 23 ceremony about the the European Flight Ticket Initiative. Credit: EC webcast
Representatives of ESA, the European Commission and five launch companies at a Jan. 23 ceremony about the the European Flight Ticket Initiative. Credit: EC webcast

Ekaterini Kavvada, Director for Secure and Connected Space at the European Commission, highlighted the strong collaboration between the Commission and ESA, exemplified by the success of the Flight Ticket Initiative. This partnership marks a new era in European space launch, where coordinated efforts between institutions pave the way for a thriving and competitive launch sector.

Industry leaders expressed optimism about the initiative’s potential. Miguel Belló Mora, the new CEO of Orbex, saw the selection as a crucial milestone, boosting investor and employee confidence. Jean-Jacques Dordain, former ESA Director General and advisor to Rocket Factory Augsburg, commended the program for fostering competition and innovation.

The European Flight Ticket Initiative represents a pivotal moment for European space launch. By combining public funding with private sector expertise, the program fosters a vibrant launch ecosystem, positioning Europe to compete effectively in the global space market. With the European Commission actively shaping launch policy and ESA acting as a facilitator, the future of European launch services appears bright and brimming with potential.

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