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The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun preliminary technical discussions with Elon Musk's SpaceX on the temporary use of its launchers after the conflict in Ukraine blocked Western access to Russian Soyuz rockets.

Private US rival to Europe's Arianespace has emerged as a key contender to fill the temporary gap along with Japan and India, but final decisions depend on the still uncertain launch schedule for Europe's Ariane 6 rocket.

"I would say there are two and a half options that we’re discussing. One is SpaceX that is clear. Another one is possibly Japan,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told Reuters. “Japan is waiting for the inaugural flight of its next generation rocket. Another option could be India,” he added in an interview.

Aschbacher said the talks remain under study. “We are looking into this technical interoperability, but we have not yet solicited a quotation. We just want to make sure that this will be an option to decide on a firm quotation request,” he said.

Aschbacher noted that any fallback solution would be temporary, adding that he was not worried about the future of Ariane 6.

Satellite internet firm OneWeb, a competitor to SpaceX's satellite internet venture Starlink, has booked at least one Falcon 9 launch in March. She also booked a launch in India.

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