At long last: Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket set to debut on July 9

illustration of a rocket launching into a sunset sky with a tropical landscape in the background
Artist's illlustration of Europe's Ariane 6 rocket launching into space. (Image credit: ESA)

Europe's new Ariane 6 heavy-lift rocket is set to launch for the first time on July 9 after a series of delays. 

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Ariane 6 rocket, developed by ArianeGroup, will lift off from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The date of the rocket's long-awaited inaugural flight was announced at the ILA Berlin air show on June 5; however, a specific launch time or window has not yet been released. 

"Ariane 6 marks a new era of autonomous, versatile European space travel," Josef Aschbacher, ESA's director general, said in a statement from the space agency. "This powerful rocket is the culmination of many years of dedication and ingenuity from thousands across Europe and, as it launches, it will re-establish Europe's independent access to space." 

Related: Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket aces crucial 7-minute engine burn 

Ariane 6 is Europe's next-generation heavy-lift launch vehicle, consisting of a main and upper stage and two or four solid rocket boosters. Its reignitable upper stage will allow it to launch multiple missions on different orbits on a single flight, ESA officials said in the statement. 

The new rocket will replace the venerable Ariane 5, which was retired last July after 27 years of service and more than 100 successful launches. Europe's original plan was to have the Ariane 6 up and running by 2020, allowing for a smooth transition between the two launch vehicles. However, Ariane 6 suffered a series of delays caused by technical issues, COVID-19 and design changes. 

"I would like to thank the teams on the ground for their tireless hard work, teamwork and dedication in this last stretch of the inaugural launch campaign," Aschbacher said in the statement. "Ariane 6 is Europe's rocket for the needs of today, adaptable to our future ambitions."

With a scheduled launch date officially on the books, ESA and its partners are completing the final steps for liftoff, including a fueling test and practice countdown known as a wet dress rehearsal, which is slated for June 18. 

Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket still has to complete several milestones before it can be cleared for its debut flight. (Image credit: ESA-Manuel Pedoussaut)

"This flight will mark the culmination of years of development and testing by the teams at ArianeGroup and its partners across Europe," Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, said in the statement. "It will pave the way for commercial operations and a significant ramp-up over the next two years. Ariane 6 is a powerful, versatile and scalable launcher that will ensure Europe's autonomous access to space." 

While the inaugural Ariane 6 launch is primarily a demonstration flight, it will carry various payloads, which have already been integrated on the rocket's payload carrier. If successful, Ariane 6 could launch on a second flight by the end of the year, with the goal to eventually complete about 10 launches each year. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13. 

  • newtons_laws
    Whilst I welcome the imminent first launch of Ariane 6 and hope it goes well I can't see it being used that much except for ESA missions. Previous Ariane versions won a significant number of commercial launch contracts but since the advent of SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rocket I can't see how the non reusable Ariane 6 can compete on cost grounds in winning commercial contracts (the same could be said for ULA's non reusable launchers too).
    Reply
  • fj.torres
    newtons_laws said:
    Whilst I welcome the imminent first launch of Ariane 6 and hope it goes well I can't see it being used that much except for ESA missions. Previous Ariane versions won a significant number of commercial launch contracts but since the advent of SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rocket I can't see how the non reusable Ariane 6 can compete on cost grounds in winning commercial contracts (the same could be said for ULA's non reusable launchers too).
    Much like SLS and New Glenn, it is the best Old Space can come up with.

    It's not just Falcon they need to worry about: Relativity and Rocket Lab are also in the queue as reusable alternatives that will be flying long before Ariane 7 gets beyond paper studies. Until they grok the value of hardware rich development none of them will be more than also rans.

    Even with modern software, space is hard and eventually you have to cut metal; the inevitable is best dealt with the soonest.
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    fj.torres said:
    Much like SLS and New Glenn, it is the best Old Space can come up with.

    It's not just Falcon they need to worry about: Relativity and Rocket Lab are also in the queue as reusable alternatives that will be flying long before Ariane 7 gets beyond paper studies. Until they grok the value of hardware rich development none of them will be more than also rans.

    Even with modern software, space is hard and eventually you have to cut metal; the inevitable is best dealt with the soonest.
    Good point about the other companies going down the reusable route. Although being a senior citizen and living in the UK I had to internet search for the meaning of 'grok' https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/grok :)
    Reply
  • fj.torres
    newtons_laws said:
    Good point about the other companies going down the reusable route. Although being a senior citizen and living in the UK I had to internet search for the meaning of 'grok' https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/grok :)
    Grok is a bit more than just understanding; it is about internalizing it so it is core to your thinking.

    Like, the SpaceX mantra: "The best part is no part." It leads to thinking about what function a given part or system performs and questioning how necessary it is and whether the function can be done a different way. Appled to landing legs, it led to the "mechazilla" docking arms to "catch" Starship boosters and ships while at the same time it serves to stack, unstack, and manipulate them at the launch tower.

    For all that the SpaceX staff are briliant at software, they are even better at designing multifunction components and systems. A valuable skill when dealing with 3D printed designs. The folks at Relativity share that skill. Check out their online video showing how they build their engines.

    It's like the New Space generation plays ches while old space plays checkers. They work under different assumptions and rules and come up with different solutions.
    Reply