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Ariane 6 suffers further delays

August 9, 2023

Europe’s giant Ariane 6, already much delayed, is to be further postponed into 2024 says the European Space Agency (ESA).

The delay, perhaps as long as six more months, comes amid considerable criticism of ESA, and the rocket’s other build and launch contractors.

One recent comment described the ESA and its partners in the project as issuing “Fibs, deceit [and] deliberate misrepresentation” over recent statements and alleging a lack of transparency over the readiness – or otherwise – of its latest Ariane 6 rocket.

That alleged secrecy is now to be remedied by ESA with a press briefing on September 4th to update journalists on the current situation and to explain “[the] progress achieved and outline upcoming steps in the Ariane 6 development test campaign”.

ESA, and its partners, have done themselves few favours lately in regard to newsflow.

Other ‘western’ agencies and rocket launch businesses are arguably significantly more open in how they disseminate information to the outside world. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, even though it is a privately-held business, is wholly transparent in its launch activity, and even with SpaceX’s Starship programme where there’s near non-stop coverage on YouTube of every movement in particular from the SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas, site.

It is much the same with any US publicly funded rocket activity and in particular with any NASA programme.

But this is far from the case with publicly-funded ESA activity which seems intent on what some allege is deliberate deception and disinformation regarding its long-overdue Ariane 6 rocket and its testing regime. This philosophy is seemingly a direct contradiction of DG Josef Aschbacher’s promise to be much more transparent.

Hopefully, this is about to change with ESA’s upcoming briefing.

This should go some way to remedy past criticism. One highly-regarded commentator said that ESA “still seems shy” about sharing any news on the testing of Ariane 6’s engines.

Another expert stated that if it were NASA that was employing these tactics then “the US space press corps would be up in arms.” He added: “The European Space Agency’s lack of transparency with regard to the Ariane 6 rocket’s development and testing is completely unacceptable. This is a publicly funded project.”

The comments are entirely justified. The facts make disappointing reading. For example, June 22nd should have seen the beginning of a thorough test of the new rocket’s massive Vulcain 2.1 engines. A June 25th press release from ESA stated that the tests were “progressing well” and added “Representatives of ESA, Ariane 6 prime contractor ArianeGroup and launch base prime contractor and test conductor CNES completed important objectives for system qualification and performed a series of actions fully representative of a launch chronology.”

This, it has been alleged, seems to have been a blatant lie, or to be ultra-polite a deliberate misinformation. The fact is that the launch team could not complete a count-down and achieve a 4-second engine test, and the issued information was – at best – fudged and deliberately vague.

ESA added that many aspects were tested (“Operational procedures, lower and upper stages, avionics, software, launch base, and control bench worked correctly together, and the performance of the full launch system was measured with excellent results.”)

All this was undoubtedly true, and valuable elements of the overall process. But there was no mention of the missing engine test…

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