Despite being up against fierce competition from the likes of SpaceX which is launching rockets with relentless frequency, Arianespace has again slipped the launch readiness date for its new Ariane 6 rocket.
Originally promised for a mid-2020 debut test flight, that date has reportedly slipped to late next year.
Ariane 6 is a much-needed replacement for today’s Ariane 5 vehicles. According to Space Intel Report there are just nine Ariane 5’s left in the manifest and some of these are pre-booked for launching between July and the end of 2022 and handling scientific missions as well as commercial cargoes.
Ariane 6 is designed to be used in a number of variants not least the Ariane-64 vehicle which is designed to handle two fairly heavy commercial satellites into geostationary orbit on the same rocket.
Part of the problem is clearly down to the coronavirus, and closed factories or severely limited production workflows. Space Intel Report says that the impact of Covid-19 will be around 6 months, and means that there would be a follow-on delay after the first flight of another 6 months which would put the second flight into 2022. Space Intel Report suggests that Flight 3 would follow after another 3 months but the all-important A-64 variant would be Flight 4 of the new schedule, and currently that’s well down the line.
Arianespace does have some spare capacity by using a “Europeanised” version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket which is fine for some tasks. But as well as SpaceX there is also fresh competition coming from lower-cost reusable rockets from Jeff Bezos and his suite of Blue Origin rockets likely to be tested in 2021.
India, Japan, China and Russia are also busy building suitable rockets to rival Ariane.