Ariane-6 is nearing its first launch

Ariane-6 is nearing its first launch

If all goes well by the summer, the four-year delay of the Ariane-6 program will soon be nothing more than a bad memory. The European rocket, which has suffered setbacks since the project’s launch in 2014, should make its first flight between mid-June and July 31, as announced in December 2023. “The shooting window has not changed,” confirmed Thursday, March 7, Martin Sion, executive president of ArianeGroup for the Association of Professional Aeronautics and Space Journalists.

“Over six months, together with the teams from the European Space Agency and the National Center for Space Studies, we gradually regained control over the planning.” he clarified. The setbacks stemmed from a lack of detailed preliminary technical design during the rocket’s design, coupled with the lack of knowledge transfer. “Twenty-six years have passed between the launch of the Ariane-5 project in 1988 and that of Ariane-6,” Mr. Sion recalled. Skills had to be trained. In addition, the two years of Covid-19, all against a backdrop of tensions between the French and Germans, were the two main contributors to the project, at 55.3% and 22% respectively.

The Canopée with parts of the European Ariane 6 launch vehicle, near Kourou, February 21, 2024.

Three weeks ago, the two stages of the launch vehicle were transferred by boat to the Guyana Space Center in Kourou and are being assembled. The rocket is then taken to its launch pad. A qualification review then begins to verify each element. The date of his flight will depend on the outcome.

Nine annual launches

Commercial launches begin six months after the first flight. Europe will then regain access to the space it has been deprived of since October 2023. The increase in power will be gradual, reaching a pace of nine launches per year, four of which will be reserved for European states due to their institutional needs. or scientific. With this commitment and in exchange for financial support of 340 million euros, the States demanded a cost reduction. ArianeGroup has committed to an 11% reduction.

With a target of nine annual launches, Ariane-6 will lag far behind the 100 Falcon 9s launched by SpaceX. “It cannot be compared” underlines Martin Sion. Elon Musk’s rocket is mainly used to put the thousands of satellites in his Starlink constellation into orbit, while the European launch vehicle is mainly adapted to the needs of states, and then “capture a share of the commercial market”, he explains. Twenty-eight orders have already been received, a sign that this market needs launch vehicles and not just one.

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