Ariane 6 ready to rocket, bringing heavy-lift capability back to Europe

Just a wet dress rehearsal left before debut launch

The much-delayed Ariane 6 rocket is scheduled to launch on July 9 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

The date was announced by European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Josef Aschbacher in Berlin this week.

Europe lost its domestic heavy-lift capability with the retirement of the Ariane 5. The plan for the Ariane 6 was to create something more flexible and cheaper than its predecessor – the launcher can carry more and heavier satellites than the Ariane 5 and features an upper-stage engine that can be relit multiple times.

However, ESA managers would be happy just to see an Ariane 6 get off the ground. A combination of delays in the development of the Ariane 6, the loss of the Soyuz launch capability due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the failure of the Vega-C has left the agency having to use alternative providers to get its spacecraft into orbit.

Ariane 6 is expendable like its predecessor, a decision that seems a little illogical today but perhaps made more sense when the design was selected over a decade ago. The first flight will demonstrate that the rocket works, with ESA responsible for it. A second launch is planned by the end of 2024. After that, Arianespace intends to reach a cadence of ten launches per year.

SpaceX, in comparison, managed ten launches of its Falcon 9 in January 2024 alone.

The payload on the maiden flight will include eight CubeSats and reentry capsules from ArianeGroup and The Exploration Company. The Exploration Company is one of two companies that ESA contracted to devise a way of getting cargo back from the International Space Station (ISS).

The new rocket has one last major milestone ahead of it – a wet dress rehearsal on June 18. The Ariane 6 will be fueled on the launchpad and then drained again. Once the rehearsal has been successfully performed, the rocket will be set for its inaugural flight. ®

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