Watch Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket fire up its engine for the 1st time (video)

Europe's next-generation heavy-lift rocket just took a big step towards its first, much-awaited launch.

The rocket's core stage Vulcain 2.1 engine burned liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for four seconds on a launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on Sept. 5. 

The hot firing went smoothly and to plan, following earlier delays to the test schedule. It marks significant progress as the European Space Agency (ESA) and the rocket's developers look to get the launcher flying next year.

Related: Europe hopes to announce Ariane 6 debut flight date by the end of October

The European Space Agency's Ariane 6 rocket fires its Vulcain 2.1 engine on a launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on Sept. 5, 2023. (Image credit: ESA)

ESA oversaw the test conducted by French space agency CNES and prime contractor ArianeGroup. It involved a launch sequence and final countdown representative of a launch, ESA said. 

"This successful hot-fire test of the core stage supplements the test performed on July 18 and is a major step towards qualification of Ariane 6, because we have notably validated all the operations needed to run a complete launch campaign," said Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, in a statement.

The rocket used for testing won't be taking to the skies, however.

"The Ariane 6 rocket now installed on the launch pad is not intended for flight — the solid rocket boosters are inert — but it is almost identical to a flight model for purposes of testing," an ESA statement read.

Ariane 6 is Europe's new-generation, expendable launcher that will take over from the recently retired workhorse Ariane 5

It was originally planned to begin flights in 2020 but has been hit by a series of delays. The launcher is now, however, entering the final stretches of its test campaign.

The rocket's upper stage performed a came through a hot fire test at the German Aerospace Center's (DLR) facilities in Lampoldshausen, Germany, on Sept. 1. 

Next up, a test scheduled for Oct. 3 will see the rocket's Vulcain 2.1 engine fire for 470 seconds.

If all goes well, Europe hopes to announce the date for the Ariane 6 debut flight by the end of October.  

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.