The European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 rocket is scheduled for its debut launch in mid-2024, its director Josef Aschbacher announced yesterday.
The news follows a successful hot-fire test on November 23 at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. The term ‘hot-fire’ refers to the fact that the engine is fired with its propellants, producing actual combustion and exhaust. The only difference from an actual launch is that the boosters are not ignited — keeping the rocket firmly planted to the ground.
“With the latest test complete, Ariane 6 has been through the essential rehearsals required for qualification,” said Aschbacher on X, formerly Twitter. “We have validated our models, increased our knowledge of operations and are now confident for our first launch period for Europe’s new heavy-lift launcher.”
While the inaugural flight won’t carry major payloads in orbit, it will transport several smaller satellites. If that launch is successful, Arianespace, the company who developed the rocket, will aim for a second launch later in the year. That second launch would carry the CSO-3 reconnaissance satellite for the French military, said the company’s CEO Stéphane Israël in a press briefing.
Following that, Ariane 6 would be put to work conducting as many flights as possible. The long-term objective is to launch the rocket into space 9-10 times per year, said Israël. These would include 18 launches for Amazon’s Kuiper broadband megaconstellation project.
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Ariane 6 was first scheduled to launch four years ago. However, the rocket suffered a series of delays, attributed to technical issues, COVID-19, and design changes.
With Ariane 6’s predecessor, Ariane 5, officially decommissioned and Italy’s Vega C rocket grounded following launch failure in December, Europe is currently without independent access to space satellites.
So it is welcome news that Ariane 6 is on track for launch in around 6 months’ time — if all goes to plan that is.