Space Image

Eumetsat Switches Weather Satellite Launch from Ariane 6 to Falcon 9

The satellite, which was initially set to launch as early as early 2025 on an Ariane 6, is now scheduled for a 2025 Falcon 9 launch.

  • More details coming soon...
Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Sun Jun 30 2024Written by Zac Aubert

European weather satellite operator Eumetsat has confirmed it will shift the upcoming launch of its Meteosat Third Generation-Sounder 1 (MTG-S1) geostationary weather satellite from the Ariane 6 rocket to SpaceX's Falcon 9.

The satellite, which was initially set to launch as early as early 2025 on an Ariane 6, is now scheduled for a 2025 Falcon 9 launch.

“This decision was driven by exceptional circumstances...It does not compromise our standard policy of supporting European partners, and we look forward to a successful SpaceX launch for this masterpiece of European technology.” - Phil Evans, Director-General of Eumetsat

MTG-S1, the second in the Meteosat Third Generation line of geostationary weather satellites, follows the MTG-I1, which launched on one of the last Ariane 5 rockets in December 2022. Notably, MTG-S1 is the first to carry a sounder instrument capable of providing vertical profiles of temperature and water vapor to enhance weather forecasting.

Eumetsat emphasized in its statement that the launch of MTG-S1 will "bring a revolution for weather forecasting and climate monitoring" and hinted that the switch to Falcon 9 was made to ensure the satellite's timely launch. “Its launch will ensure that national weather services can benefit from new and more accurate data to protect lives, properties, and infrastructures...the EUMETSAT member states 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 decision has evidently shocked European space officials, who publicly expressed their frustration and disappointment.

“quite a brutal change...Clearly, today is a very disappointing day for European space efforts...I am impatiently waiting to understand what reasons could have led Eumetsat to such a decision, at a time where all major European space countries as well as the European Commission are calling for launching European satellites on European launchers!” - Philippe Baptiste, Head of the French Space Agency CNES

“This illustrates, once again, the ardent need for strong European coordination on space,” - Philippe Baptiste, Head of the French Space Agency CNES

Baptiste has previously urged the European Commission to implement a “buy European” regulation that would mandate European government missions to use European rockets.

“It’s difficult to understand, especially as Ariane 6 is well on track for its 9 July inaugural flight, with all proceeding nominally,” - Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA)

The inaugural launch of Ariane 6 is set for July and if successful, a second launch, a commercial one managed by Arianespace, is scheduled before the end of the year.

Arianespace has an order book of 30 Ariane 6 launches, including 18 launches of Project Kuiper satellites for Amazon, along with other commercial and government customers; with six Ariane 6 launches in 2025, increasing to eight in 2026 and 10 in 2027, with the vehicle's maximum flight rate expected to be 9 to 12 launches annually.

“First and foremost, we have developed Ariane 6 — designed, developed and now coming to the inaugural launch — in order to serve European institutional missions...This is the core reason why the public sector is funding this launcher and why we have guaranteed access to space.” - Lucía Linares, Head of Space Transportation Strategy and Institutional Launches at ESA

Eumetsat is not the first European institutional customer to opt for Falcon 9, particularly amid the "launcher crisis" that has constrained European access to space.

ESA launched its Euclid space telescope on a Falcon 9 a year ago, followed by the launch of the EarthCARE mission, a joint Earth science project with the Japanese space agency JAXA, in May. Another Falcon 9 is set to launch ESA’s Hera asteroid mission in October. Additionally, the European Commission chose Falcon 9 for launching Galileo navigation satellites, with one Falcon 9 launching a pair of satellites in April and another pair set to launch later this year.