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Ariane 6 launch plan updated

May 23, 2024

Europe’s very much-delayed Ariane 6 rocket should enjoy its debut test flight in the first two weeks of July. Good as this news is, it represents yet another delay by about one month.

ESA, in its latest update, says that the actual target launch date would be unveiled at the major ILA Berlin Airshow on June 5th-9th.

By mid-June ESA says it would be giving its final launch system qualifications. June would also see the launcher adapter, the payloads and the fairing for Ariane 6 flight model-1 being moved from the encapsulation hall to the launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana.

An important ‘Wet Dress Rehearsal’ for the new rocket is likely for June 18th.

Josef Aschbacher, director general at ESA, said all of Ariane’s partners would be present at the Berlin event, including ESA itself, the French space agency CNES and ArianeGroup.

ESA also announced its plans for a more direct launch rival to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. It fired the starting gun on May 22 with a €25 million initial funding grant to two companies to develop a rocket for commercial cargo supply missions to the International Space Station. A third grant was understood to have been earmarked for MaiaSpace, which is a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, but was not awarded and Maia has reportedly been asked to revise their proposal.

The two businesses are: The Exploration Company, a newish France/Germany joint-venture, and Thales Alenia Space, a well-established French/Italian aerospace company. ESA wants the end result to be working by 2028 with ESA deciding on a winning submission next year.

“The signature of the low-Earth orbit cargo return service contracts shows how ESA has modernised to meet the demands of the next era of the space economy,” said Aschbacher, adding that he hoped a variant could emerge capable of handle people.

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