Europe’s Ariane-6 Launch Debut

Ariane-6 Rocket Launch Credit: Ariane Group

Europe’s newest rocket, Ariane-6, just made its debut, lifting off yesterday from a launchpad in French Guiana at 4 pm local time (9 pm CET).

The European-built rocket was developed at a cost of €4.3billion and boasts a stronger and more powerful vehicle than its predecessor, able to carry more satellites and heavier ones than the Ariane-5. The upper-stage engine also promotes a sophisticated design that can ignite and re-ignite four times. 

European Space Agency

The development was a combined effort, overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA), and built by the ArianeGroup – an Airbus and Safron collaborative venture. A total of 13 nations played a part in the completion of the Ariane-6 programme, creating the over 200-foot-tall rocket powered by its Vulcain engine.

Originally booked to liftoff in 2020 but ultimately delayed, Ariane-6’s first mission was to put a clutch of satellites in orbit and demonstrate its capabilities. 

After launch, the crew on the ground in Korou applauded as the new vessel jetted off into the sky. 

Although the climb to its desired altitude was smooth and the release of a small number of satellites was successful, the upper stage of the rocket experienced a rare malfunction.

Computers onboard the unmanned rocket decided to prematurely shut down the auxiliary power unit (APU) which pressurises the propulsion of the rocket. 

Rocket Malfunction

Unfortunately, this prevented the rocket from initiating the burn that was intended to bring it out of orbit and set up for stage 2 of the mission – to jettison two re-entry capsules.

Controllers on the ground were unable to resolve the issue onboard, however, the mission was still considered a success, deploying 11 spacecraft in our orbit, with Josef Aschbacher, the director general of the European Space Agency, told the BBC;

“This is a historic moment. The inaugural launch of a new heavy-lift rocket doesn’t happen every year; it happens only every 20 years or maybe 30 years. And today we have launched Ariane-6 successfully.” 

Aschbacher also optimistically confirmed, “We’re relieved; we’re excited”.

The Space Race

Unlike the Falcon-9, SpaceX’s rocket and arguably Ariane’s biggest competitor, the European rocket is expendable just like its previous editions, meaning the vehicles are one-offs planned to be discarded after the mission.

The driving force behind the Ariane project is Europe’s desire for access to space, and to maintain a presence in the ‘Space Race’, led fiercely by China and the US. However, Europe’s own Ariane-6 is not to be dismissed, and has a major player with a customer eagerly waiting for launches; 

Amazon, the American tech giant, has opted for Europe’s largest rocket when setting up its Project Kuiper satellite constellation in space. Amazon reportedly ordered a whopping 97 rocket launches from five separate companies, nearly a fifth of which were won by Arianespace to fly the satellites on Ariane-6

Hans Steininger, CEO of MT Aerospace AG enthusiastically confirmed “With 18 Ariane 6 launches ordered over a period of three years, our production will significantly rise through a challenging production ramp-up. This is excellent news for our company and the production sites in Augsburg and Bremen.”

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Written by

Harry Sinclair

Originally from the UK, Harry Sinclair is a journalist and freelance writer based in Almeria covering local stories and international news, with a keen interest in arts and culture. If you have a news story please feel free to get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com.

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