Ariane 6 First Launch Slated for 2024; Europe Without a Rocket

Ariane 6 Launch Vehicle. Image: ESA

Originally planned for a 2023 inaugural launch, Ariane 6 will now likely launch in 2024, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The delay is reportedly due to some software anomalies and issues with firing the Vulcain engine. The Ariane 6 will replace the Ariane 5, which recently launched its last mission. The Ariane 6 is built by ArianeGroup – a 50-50 joint venture between Airbus and Safran – and will be operated by Arianespace of Evry, France.

Owing to Ariane 6’s delay and Ariane 5’s retirement, and given that Soyuz is no longer launching from French Guiana and Vega C is working through difficulties, Europe is currently without a launch vehicle. Delays are common in spaceflight, but this confluence of geopolitical and technological difficulties will benefit launch providers outside of Europe. ESA has therefore approached SpaceX to pick up the slack. The Euclid space telescope was launched on a Falcon 9, and further European missions will likely also utilize Falcon 9.

At the Space Tech Expo show in Bremen, Germany, held in November 2022, representatives of ESA and other companies and organizations stressed the need for European launch independence. These current setbacks are definitely not ideal, but new options are on the way to market, including European rockets such as RFA One and Isar Aerospace Spectrum, but for the time being Europe must look elsewhere.

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