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Ariane 6 launch: How to follow it and why it’s important for Europe’s space ambitions

Ariane 6 launch: How to follow it and why it’s important for Europe’s space ambitions
Ariane 6 launch: How to follow it and why it’s important for Europe’s space ambitions

A lot can go wrong during a test launch: in 1996, the first Ariane 5 exploded after 40 seconds.

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Europe’s position in space is at stake as the Ariane 6 heavy-lift launch vehicle prepares for its maiden flight on Tuesday.

Ariane 6 has been in development for nearly a decade and is designed to put Europe on the map for satellite launches and give Europe access to space. But with stiff competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is there really room in space for Ariane 6?

Here’s everything you need to know about getting started.

When is it on and how can you watch it?

The launch will take place on July 9 from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. You can follow the launch live on the European Space Agency (ESA) YouTube channel from 19:30 CEST.

The launch is scheduled for 20:00 CEST and there is a four-hour window to complete its mission.

What could go wrong?

A lot can go wrong during a test launch: in 1996, the first Ariane 5 exploded after 40 seconds.

The failure rate in such test launches is high.

“Statistically, there is a 47 percent chance that the first flight will not be successful or will not go exactly as planned,” said Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, in May.

Why the delay?

The original launch was planned for 2020, but was delayed by technical problems. The COVID-19 pandemic also made things even more difficult, as did the war in Ukraine, as Europe had space relations with Russia.

What happened to the Ariane 5 and what is different about the Ariane 6?

Ariane 5 was decommissioned in July 2023 after 27 years of service. It carried out the first ESA missions to a comet (Rosetta), Mercury and Jupiter.

The Ariane 6 is set to take its place and is expected to be significantly cheaper than its predecessor. However, it has been criticized for being expendable, unlike SpaceX, which has a reusable launch system to reduce costs and be more sustainable.

“Any rocket that is not or largely not reused will not survive,” Elon Musk said at the Viva Tech conference in Paris in May:and explained that it would not be cost effective for a company not to do so.

The Ariane 6 rocket will be produced in two main versions. The medium-weight Ariane 62 is the first version. It can carry 10.3 tonnes of cargo into low Earth orbit and 4.5 tonnes into geotransition. It will cost 75 million euros.

The second version is the Ariane 64, which weighs 870 tons and can launch 21.6 tons into low Earth orbit and 4.5 tons into geotransition. It costs 115 million euros, making it significantly more expensive than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch, which costs 67 million dollars (almost 62 million euros).

What is being sent into space?

The launch of Ariane 62 will take place on Tuesday, carrying nine CubeSats (small satellites) from European companies and research institutions.

Made in Europe

Up to thirteen European countries worked together on the development of Ariane 6 under the leadership of France.

Italian aerospace companies have provided propulsion systems. The Belgian science policy office BELSPO and Belgian companies have contributed their expertise in areas such as telecommunications and satellite technology.

Spanish companies were involved in structural components and ground equipment.

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Swiss companies have contributed precision engineering and components to the Ariane 6 programme, particularly in areas such as guidance and navigation systems.

Dutch companies have contributed their expertise in areas such as avionics and payload integration to Ariane 6 missions.

Could Ariane 6 have carried out manned space flights?

Although this is not currently the goal of Ariane 6, Toni Tolker-Nielsen, ESA’s Director of Space Transport, explained in an interview that it is possible.

“With some modifications, Ariane 6 can be a launch vehicle for manned missions. But we can also invest in a safety system for the capsule to make it safe for the crew in the event of a launch failure,” he told SpaceNews.

“We have a contract to find the best compromise between these two options next year. The decision to pursue these options then lies with the ESA Member States,” he added.

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