HomeGame GuidesEurope celebrates the maiden flight of Ariane 6 as it returns to...

Europe celebrates the maiden flight of Ariane 6 as it returns to independent access to space

Published on

Last night, the French Guiana spaceport saw the maiden flight of the highly anticipated Ariane 6 rocket, the successor to the European Ariane 5 that was decommissioned last summer. The launch was successful, although not everything went as planned.

Ariane 6 took to the skies years behind schedule and exactly one year after the last flight of Ariane 5. The launch was very important for the European Space Agency (ESA) and the entire European spaceflight industry, as it restored independent access to space for Europe.

Not only Ariane 5 was taken out of service, but also the smaller Vega-C rocket launcher which suffered from technical problems and had to be grounded for a long time. With Ariane 6’s maiden mission and Vega-C’s return-to-flight mission now scheduled for November, this gives ESA peace of mind – at least for the time being.

Ariane 6 is a two-stage rocket designed to carry two (A62) or four (A64) additional solid rocket boosters. The spacecraft is 63 meters (207 feet) tall and the less powerful version of A62 that flew yesterday can carry ten metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO).

Besides a dummy weight, Ariane 6 had several fixed experimental devices and small equipment on board, including, among other things, a miniature gamma-ray burst observatory GRBBeta (2U CubeSat) which also hosts the smallest UV telescope in space measuring just two centimeters.

Most of the spacecraft were released a little over an hour after liftoff, at which point the mission was considered successful. However, the next technical demonstration of activating the so-called auxiliary propulsion unit (APU) and re-igniting the upper stage Vinci engine failed. As a result, the upper stage missed its intended trajectory and canceled the planned doorbite burn. Also, the last parts of the payload – two re-entry capsules – did not separate from the spacecraft to minimize the space debris caused by the failure.

ArianeGroup, the rocket’s prime contractor, said during the post-flight press conference that it did not know what caused the problem. An analysis and investigation will be carried out. However, what is more important is that the complications will not affect the upcoming flights.

ESA and ArianeGroup explained that the failure happened during the demonstration phase when testing the behavior and ability of the upper stage to re-ignite in the microgravity environment. However, this capability is mission specific, so it will not delay missions that do not utilize this maneuver as part of their flight profile.

Ariane 6’s second flight is currently scheduled for December and the planned increase in activity includes six more flights in 2025.

This will be crucial for a number of customers eagerly awaiting the Ariane 6 to carry their payloads to orbit. One of them is Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s Kuiper Group, which wants to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service.

To comply with the FCC license, Amazon needs to build half of the constellation — 1,618 satellites — by the summer of 2026. Ariane 6 is one of four rockets Bezos plans to carry out that duty. In total, Amazon bought 18 flights of the more powerful version of the A64.

Latest articles

More like this