ESA’s Ariane 6 Update: First Launch Target Set After Successful Upcoming Tests
The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that it will set a target launch period for the first Ariane 6 rocket in October, after completing a series of upcoming tests on the launch pad in French Guiana. The agency hopes that the new launch vehicle will be ready to fly “not too late” into 2024.
The Ariane 6 is Europe’s next-generation launcher, designed to be more flexible and cost-effective than its predecessor, the Ariane 5. The rocket will be available in two versions: Ariane 62, with two solid rocket boosters, and Ariane 64, with four. The rocket will be capable of launching a wide range of payloads to various orbits, from low Earth orbit to geostationary transfer orbit.
The development of the Ariane 6 involves an industrial network of hundreds of companies in 13 European countries, led by the prime contractor ArianeGroup. The launch facilities at the Guiana Space Centre are being prepared by the French space agency CNES.
The final tests before setting the launch target include two static-fire tests of the rocket’s core stage and its Vulcain 2.1 engine, which is derived from the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine. The first test, lasting about four seconds, is scheduled for September 5. The second test, lasting about 470 seconds, is scheduled for October 3. These tests will qualify the core stage for flight.
The program has also achieved a successful static-fire test of the rocket’s Vinci upper stage engine on September 1 at a facility in Germany. The test confirmed the performance of the upper stage on a nominal flight. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said that the tests are looking “really good” and that he is optimistic that the first launch will take place “not too late” in 2024. However, he also acknowledged that there are still “a lot of unknowns” ahead.
The first launch of the Ariane 6 was originally planned for 2020, but was delayed due to technical issues and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The inaugural mission will be a commercial flight for two customers: Eutelsat and OneWeb. The rocket will also carry several small satellites as secondary payloads, using payload adapters developed by ESA.
The Ariane 6 will compete with other launch providers such as SpaceX, which has been dominating the global launch market with its reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. ESA hopes that the Ariane 6 will maintain Europe’s leadership and autonomy in space access and provide reliable and affordable services to its customers.