Watch European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 Rocket Make Its First-Ever Flight This Week

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing for the mainden launch of its Ariane 6 rocket on July 9, 2024, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Europe’s new 203-foot-tall (62-meter) rocket will be capable of a wide range of missions, and able to carry launch payloads of up to 11.5 tons into geostationary transfer orbit, and 21.6 tons into low Earth orbit.

The Ariane 6 rocket was meant to debut in 2020 as a replacement for the retired Ariane 5. However, technical issues, COVID, and design changes have kept the rocket grounded. After many setbacks, the ESA, its partners in 13 European countries, and the ArianeGroup eagerly await the rocket’s maiden voyage tomorrow.

“We have made a lot of innovations between Ariane 6 and Ariane 5. Innovation in particular on the upper stage of the launcher with two, brand new propulsion systems: the re-ignitable Vinci engine and also an auxiliary power unit,” explained Franck Huiban, Head of Civil Program at ArianeGroup. “This gives Ariane 6 much broader mission capability compared to the Ariane 5, but of course, since we introduced an innovative system, we met some difficulties.”

The rocket comes in two different versions, the Ariane 62 with two boosters, and the Ariane 64 with four boosters. It will have the flexibility of launching both heavy and light payloads for things such as Earth observation, telecommunication, meteorology, science, and navigation. The system also allows for small satellites lighter than 200kg to ride ‘piggyback’ on the launch of the main payload via payload carriers, providing cost-effective opportunities for small companies to have access to the space industry.

The rocket comprises three stages, two or four boosters, and a main and upper stage. The main stage, along with the solid rocket boosters, propels the Ariane 6 in the first phase of flight. Ariane 6’s upper stage allows the rocket to reach a range of orbits on a single mission to deliver more payloads. The fairing, a nose cone that splits into two vertically, protects satellites from the thermal, acoustic, and aerodynamic stresses on the ascent to space.

Ariane 6 will not be launching with an empty payload. The rocket will transport 11 international payloads, including several satellites, two capsules designed to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, as well as experiments that will remain aboard the rocket for the entire mission sending back telemetry. One item in the payload, the Nyx Bikini, will send back data to help engineers build more effective reentry capsules.

The Ariane 6 currently has a launch window beginning on Tuesday, July 9 at 2pm EST, and can be viewed via the feed above, or on ESA Web TV.