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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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Inside Copernicus, Where All The Data Of Climate Change Gets Captured And Crunched

As COP28 heats up, a close-up look at the massive European earth observatory program 25 years after its creation, with its disturbing monthly reports of a planet that has gotten hotter than ever.

A photo of Sentinel-2 floating above Earth

Sentinel-2 orbiting Earth

Laura Berny

PARIS — The monthly Copernicus bulletin has become a regular news event.

In early August, amid summer heatwaves around the Northern Hemisphere, Copernicus — the Earth Observation component of the European Union's space program — sent out a press release confirming July as the hottest month ever recorded. The news had the effect of a (climatic) bomb. Since then, alarming heat records have kept coming, including the news at the beginning of November, when Copernicus Climate Change Service deputy director Samantha Burgess declared 2023 to be the warmest year on record ”with near certainty.”

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Approaching the dangerous threshold set by the Paris Agreement, the global temperature has never been so high: 1.43°C (2.57°F) higher than the pre-industrial average of 1850-1900 and 0.10°C (0.18°F) higher than the average of 2016 (warmest year so far). Burgess, a marine geochemistry researcher who previously served as chief advisor for oceans for the UK government, knows that the the climate data gathered by Copernicus is largely driving the negotiations currently underway at COP28 in Dubai.

She confirmed for Les Echos that December is also expected to be warmer than the global average due to additional heat in sea surfaces, though there is still more data to collect. “Are the tipping points going to be crossed in 2023,?" she asked. "Or is it just a very warm year part of the long-term warming trend varying from one year to the next?”

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