Europe’s Ariane 6 blasts off on maiden flight

Launch goes ahead after checks showed a ‘small issue’ in a data acquisition system, European Space Agency says.

he take-off of the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite launcher Ariane 6 rocket from its launch pad
This photograph shows the takeoff of the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite launcher Ariane 6 rocket from its launchpad, at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guian [Jody Amiet/AFP]

Europe’s Ariane 6 launcher has blasted off on a debut flight, restoring the continent’s independent access to space after delays, political setbacks and debates over funding.

Standing at 56 metres (184 feet) tall, Europe’s newest uncrewed rocket left the launchpad in French Guiana around 4pm local time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday at the start of a nearly three-hour flight designed to end a yearlong hiatus in European launches.

“Propulsion and trajectory are nominal,” the mission’s launch director said in live pictures beamed to the headquarters of the European Space Agency in Paris, where employees cheered and applauded the liftoff.

The launch went ahead after checks showed a “small issue” in a data acquisition system, pushing the beginning of a launch window back by one hour.

The inaugural mission is not a commercial flight but if all goes well, it is scheduled to deploy a handful of satellites and experiments from European agencies, companies and universities.

Ariane 6 was developed at an estimated cost of 4 billion euros ($4.3bn) by ArianeGroup, co-owned by Airbus and Safran. But its arrival, originally due in 2020, has been repeatedly delayed.

Since the agency retired its workhorse Ariane 5 rocket more than a year ago, Europe has had no independent means of sending its satellites into space, while the war in Ukraine has cut Western ties to Russian Soyuz rockets, and Italy’s Vega-C is grounded.

A new generation of small European commercial launchers remains in early development mode.

What does the launch mean for Europe?

The delayed debut of Ariane 6 comes a year after its predecessor, Ariane 5, was retired, leaving Europe with no independent path to orbit for its satellites after setbacks involving a smaller Italian alternative and the severing of ties with Russia over Ukraine.

Europe has also been unable to launch satellites or other missions into space without relying on rivals such as Elon Musk’s US firm SpaceX.

“Ariane 6 is fundamental for Europe’s space ambition,” Toni Tolker-Nielsen, ESA’s acting director of space transportation, told the news agency Reuters from the control room at Europe’s spaceport.

“It is about sovereign access to space for institutional and governmental missions … and this need has been even more emphasised in view of the geopolitical situation.”

Ariane 6 is also scheduled for one more launch this year, six in 2025 then eight in 2026.

Source: News Agencies