European Space Agency plans first launch of Ariane 6 rocket

European Space Agency plans first launch of Ariane 6 rocket

After a year-long hiatus without independent access to space, the European Space Agency is ready for the inaugural launch of its Ariane 6 rocket.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher announced this week that the space agency is targeting July 9 for the first launch of Ariane 6 from Europe's launch facility in French Guiana. Previously, ESA announced a launch period of two weeks; the announcement officially sets a target launch date.

The new heavy-lift rocket, developed by primary contractor ArianeGroup, replaces its predecessor, Ariane 5, which launched NASA's James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.

Multiple versions of the Ariane 6 can be adapted to accommodate different payload sizes. The rocket has two nose cone sizes and can fly with two or four boosters, depending on the destination in space.

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ESA plans to offer ride-sharing launches for small satellites, similar to those offered by SpaceX. Its first flight will be a ride-sharing mission, with 11 small satellites and science payloads, including a NASA payload, lifting off.

"Rather than only launching an inert dummy payload as a stand in for larger satellites, we have a large platform that also offers a unique opportunity to accommodate smaller, data gathering payloads," said Loïc Bourillet, head of ESA’s Collective Launch Service Procurement. "I am incredibly pleased with the scale of space hardware that has been designed and built. It’s a testament to the inventive minds of our generation."

One of the instruments, YPSat, will remain attached to the upper stage of the Ariane 6 after launch and record the rocket's flight.

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After the final launch of the Ariane 5 rocket in July 2023, the ESA has had to turn to commercial companies to launch its payloads. Most recently, ESA contracted SpaceX to launch the Earth-observing satellite EarthCARE on May 29.

"This powerful rocket is the culmination of many years of dedication and ingenuity from thousands across Europe and, as it launches, it will re-establish Europe’s independent access to space," Aschbacher said.

ESA has 30 missions planned for Ariane 6 and plans to complete two launches by the end of 2024.


Original article source: European Space Agency plans first launch of Ariane 6 rocket