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Economy

Arianespace, A Clever European Challenger To SpaceX

European rocket company Arianespace doesn't get the attention of Elon Musk's U.S.-based upstart SpaceX, but its approach may be better equipped for the long haul.

Arianespace launch in May 2015
Arianespace launch in May 2015
Gerhard Hegmann

EVRY-COURCOURONNES"They are cheaper and you are basically dead already." These were the kind of comments that Stéphane Israël had to endure two years ago in reference to the ongoing space race between Europe's Ariane rocket and the American-made SpaceX, both designed to transport satellites into space.

Arianespace, the well-established France-based global market leader versus the new kid on the block from California, headed by multi-billionaire Elon Musk, the man behind electric car manufacturer Tesla.

SpaceX and its recycled rockets and spectacular success are turning heads on a global scale. Musk has already achieved a soft landing after a return from outer space, and he is envisioning rockets that can be refuelled like regular airplanes. This scenario costs only a fraction of the industry's usual single-use approach.

But Israël refuses to give up — quite the opposite, in fact. "It would be a huge mistake to only concentrate on SpaceX when contemplating the competition," he says.

He stresses that there are more competitors in the field besides SpaceX and that Arianespace is more sound than any of the others. "We are more reliable and will always remain more reliable," the 45-year-old says. "A new rocket is more secure than a used one. You don't always have to believe what the competition espouses."

Israël points to last year, during which the Ariane rocket beat SpaceX. Europe won more commercial commissions to launch satellites into geostationary orbit than the California rookie, with a final annual score of 12-9.

This rocket race is the most tangible proof of the paradigm shift in space travel. A new movement in the U.S. called "New Space" has now also enthralled Europe, and Silicon Valley is already working on new business ideas and technological solutions.

Instead of the usual, large satellites, smaller versions with electric engines are now being used. Venture capitalists are financing ideas that would have merely been the stuff of science fiction films not so long ago. Luxembourg, for example, only recently announced that it would invest in so-called space mining, the extraction of raw materials from asteroids.

There are thousands of ongoing projects that concern themselves with supplying Internet access through orbiting satellites. But new players, such as Google and SpaceX, are now joining the well-established elite. The Airbus Group used to build at least two large satellites per year. But from now on it will concentrate on building hundreds of small ones instead.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner's MIA Convicts: Where Do Deserting Russian Mercenaries Go?

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners who've been recruited by the Wagner Group mercenary outfit have escaped from the frontlines after volunteering in exchange for freedom. Some appear to be seeking political asylum in Europe thanks to a "cleared" criminal record.

Picture of a soldier wearing the Wagner Group Logo on their uniform.

Soldier wearing the paramilitary Wagner Group Logo on their uniform.

Source: Sky over Ukraine via Facebook
Anna Akage

Of the about 50,000 Russian convicts who signed up to fight in Ukraine with the Wagner Group, just 10,000 are reportedly still at the front. An unknown number have been killed in action — but among those would-be casualties are also a certain number of coffins that are actually empty.

To hide the number of soldiers who have deserted or defected to Ukraine, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is reportedly adding them to the lists of the dead and missing.

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Some Wagner fighters have surrendered through the Ukrainian government's "I Want To Live" hotline, says Olga Romanova, director and founder of the Russia Behind Bars foundation.

"Relatives of the convicts enlisted in the Wagner Group are not allowed to open the coffins," explains Romanova.

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