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ILA: ESA boss: Falcon 9 ‘cause to reflect’

European Space Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain says last Friday's successful launch to orbit from Cape Canaveral of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket marks a new era in the launch industry - and his organisation "must reflect" on the potential impact of this new rival.

Dordain said at ILA that while Falcon 9 does not represent new technology - its Merlin engines were in development when he was a boy - the rocket's design is interesting and, critically, the success of SpaceX heralds a new type of space company and a new type of government-industry relationship.

First, he says, ESA must recognise that SpaceX is succeeding with a very different industrial structure than its own, making something like 80% of its rockets' content in-house.

But most significantly, says Dordain, SpaceX also represents an entirely new type of relationship between government and the space industry. While most of the money invested in developing Falcon 9 and its smaller predecessor, Falcon 1, has come from the US government, SpaceX founder Elon Musk - whose earlier success as co-founder of the online payments system PayPal earned him millions - and a group of private investors have put substantial sums into the programmes.

He doubts that there is scope for a European counterpart of SpaceX because he does not believe the European launch market is big enough to support independent players whose business was based solely on government launch contracts.

However, says Dordain, Europe must still reflect carefully on how SpaceX is organised: "I am myself open to lessons learned."

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