Europe seeks to emulate NASA’s revolutionary commercial cargo program
Europe seeks to emulate NASA’s revolutionary commercial cargo program

Enlarge / A rendering of the European cargo reentry vehicle proposed by Thales Alenia Space. (credit: Thales Alecia Space)

The European Space Agency has awarded initial contracts to a German-based startup and one of the continent’s established aerospace companies to develop spacecraft to ferry cargo to and from space stations in low-Earth orbit.

ESA announced the two 25 million euro ($27 million) contracts May 22. The Exploration Company, co-located in France and Germany, and Thales Alenia Space of Italy beat out four other companies in the competition for ESA funding through the LEO Cargo Return Service program.

These contracts will run for two years, until June 2026. In this first phase of the program, The Exploration Company and Thales Alenia Space will refine their concepts, mature technologies, and focus on requirements for their cargo vehicles. ESA plans to award contracts for the second phase of the LEO Cargo Return Service program in 2026, eyeing a round-trip demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2028.

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