June 21, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

ESA sets Ariane 6 launch date: July 9

The European Space Agency has retired its Ariane 5 rocket and all eyes are on its next generation, the Ariane 6. The rocket parts have been arriving at the Kourou facilities, in French Guiana, and are already assembled. ESA has now announced that they will attempt a test launch on July 9 and hope to complete a second flight before the end of 2024. This new heavy rocket has a reflammable upper stage, allowing it to launch multiple payloads into different orbits. .

“Ariane 6 marks a new era of autonomous and versatile European space travel” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, who announced the launch data at the Berlin Air Show on Innovation and Leadership in Aerospace (ILA) on June 5, 2024. “This powerful rocket is the culmination of many years of dedication and ingenuity of thousands of people throughout Europe and, when launched, restore Europe's independent access to space. …I would like to thank the teams on the ground for their tireless hard work, teamwork and dedication in this final leg of the inaugural launch campaign. Ariane 6 is the European rocket for today's needs, adaptable to our future ambitions.”

An overview of the new European rocket, Ariane 6. Credit: ESA.

Ariane 6 has been in the works since the early 2010s to replace the workhorse Ariane 5, which is no longer in production. Ariane 5's first successful launch was in 1998, and since then it has sent 109 spacecraft on its way, including the first Jules Verne ATV to the International Space Station and the James Webb Space Telescope to the second LaGrange point at 1.5 million. kilometers (1 million miles). from the earth.

Ariane 6 is an expendable launch vehicle (not reusable like SpaceX rockets) that comes in two versions, with a modular design that can be customized: the rocket can use two or four P120C strap-on boosters, depending on the requirements of the mission. With the various designs, it can deliver a 4,500 kg payload into geostationary transfer orbit or 10,300 kg into low Earth orbit using the two boosters, and with four side boosters, it can launch 11,500 kg into geostationary transfer orbit and 20,600 kg in a low orbit. Earth orbit. The reflammable upper stage allows the launch of multiple satellites in a single flight.

The Ariane 6 rocket test fires from its launch pad at the European Spaceport in French Guiana. Credit: ESA

Ariane 6 was developed at a cost of just under €4 billion ($3.9 billion) and was originally scheduled for first launch in July 2020. However, the project has been hampered by several delays, including issues related to work during the Covid-19 pandemic. pandemic.

The rocket has undergone several tests in recent years, and in November 2023, a fully fueled Ariane 6 was tested on the launch pad. turning on its engines for several minutes, simulating a flight into space.

“The announcement of the planned date for the first flight of Ariane 6 puts us in the final stretch of the launch campaign and we are fully committed to completing the final steps,” said Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, the main contractor for the Arian. 6. “This flight will mark the culmination of years of development and testing by ArianeGroup teams and partners across Europe. It will pave the way for commercial operations and a significant increase in the next two years. Ariane 6 is a powerful, versatile and scalable launcher that will guarantee Europe's autonomous access to space.”

Part of the first Ariane 6 rocket inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, Kourou, French Guiana, in early 2024. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Arianegroup.

At the spaceport in French Guiana, Several payloads have been integrated into the Ariane 6's load carrier. An important milestone must be met before launch: a full dress rehearsal, in which a fully fueled vehicle goes through all the steps of a countdown, but not the actual ignition of the rocket motors. Once this activity is completed, Task Force Ariane 6 will provide an update, confirming the date of the inaugural flight.

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