Ariane 6 Achieves Successful Maiden Flight with Minor Setback [UPDATED]

6th Jun 2024
Ariane 6 Achieves Successful Maiden Flight with Minor Setback [UPDATED]

The European Space Agency (ESA) finally announced the launch of the new Ariane 6 heavy-lift rocket this summer. The date is set for 9 July, at 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM PDT, from Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana. The launch will take place in Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

As ESA stated, a live broadcast will start from 18:30 BST/19:30 CEST.

Update [2]: 9 July

The Ariane 6 rocket created a stunning visual across Europe, lighting up the night sky. Some even mistook it for a UFO!

Ariane 6 spotted over Europe
Credit: Alpha Centauri
Ariane 6 spotted over Europe
Credit: Alpha Centauri

Update [1]: 9 July

Ariane 6 launch
Ariane 6 launch. Credit: ESA

Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket successfully completed its inaugural flight on Tuesday, July 9, marking a significant advancement in the continent’s space capabilities. The launch from Kourou, French Guiana, occurred at 3:01 p.m. Eastern (1901 UTC), following a brief delay due to a data acquisition system issue.

Key mission events unfolded as planned:

  • Solid boosters separated at T+2 minutes, altitude 62 km
  • Main stage Vulcain 2.1 engine cut off at T+8 minutes
  • Upper stage reached 577 km circular orbit at T+1 hour 5 minutes
  • First payload separation: OOV-Cube, Curium One, and Robusta-3A satellites deployed
  • YPSat and Peregrinus experiments activated on upper stage

However, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported an issue with the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) of the upper-stage Vinci engine. This problem is expected to affect only the mission’s final phase, including the planned deorbit manoeuvre. Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, stated that teams are still unclear as to why the APU had an unscheduled power off after its third activation. Valerie de Korver, systems testing group leader for ArianeGroup, indicated that a more comprehensive understanding of the APU issue should be available in one to two weeks after a thorough analysis of flight data.

Live Updates

22:05 London time: During the third “demonstration phase” of the inaugural Ariane 6 flight, ESA commentators say the APU (Auxiliary Propulsion Unit) powered on and then powered off a few seconds later. That means the upper stage wasn’t raised.

21:09 London time: All the CubeSats have been successfully released!

21:00 London time: The second engine burn for the upper stage of Ariane 6 has begun!

20:47 London time: Ariane 6 First Flight: Phase 1 Complete!

ESA’s new heavy-lift rocket, Ariane 6, has successfully completed the first phase of its inaugural flight, marking a significant milestone in European space capabilities.

  • Phase 1 Complete: Ariane 6 has proven it can match the typical flight profile of its predecessor, Ariane 5 ECA.
  • Engine Shutdown: The Vinci engine has shut down after completing its first thrust.

This initial success demonstrates the precision and reliability of Ariane 6’s design and engineering. The rocket’s main stage, powered by the upgraded Vulcain 2.1 engine, and its solid rocket boosters have performed flawlessly, propelling the vehicle into its intended orbit. Upcoming Phases:

  • Phase 2: The next critical step involves testing the upper stage’s capability for multiple reignitions, a key feature that enhances mission flexibility.
  • Satellite Deployment: Following the reignition test, the rocket will deploy eight satellites and activate five onboard experiments.

20:20 London time: Ariane 6 achieves crucial milestone in inaugural flight. The European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 rocket has successfully completed its first major flight phase, marking a significant achievement in its maiden voyage.

– Vinci engine shutdown confirmed after first thrust
– Upper stage now in initial elliptical orbit
• Perigee (closest point to Earth): 300 km
• Apogee (farthest point from Earth): 660 km

20:08 London time: 8 minutes since Ariane 6 launched. We have had a successful main engine cutoff, stage separation and second-stage ignition. The Vinci engine fires for the first time in orbit!

19:55 London time: 5 minutes to the historic launch! The inaugural flight of Europe’s new heavy-lift Ariane 6 rocket is moments away from liftoff at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. All weather criteria are green. Earlier today, a minor issue in the ground segment’s data acquisition system was swiftly resolved.

First Ariane 6 launch

In recent years, the European space industry has encountered several challenges that stood in the way of launching Ariane 6. Initially, the flight had been scheduled for 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, various technical issues, and insufficient funding. By October 2022, ESA indicated that the launch would be no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2023, without providing a public explanation for the delay. Finally, ESA assures that the launch will not be postponed any further, as all necessary preparations have been done.

Ariane 6 is designed as a replacement for Ariane 5, known for its reliability. Between 1996 and 2023, Ariane 5 completed 117 launches, 112 of which were successful.

The new vehicle is expected to be more cost-effective and the capacity for the number of launches per year will be increased (from six or seven to eleven).

Ariane 6
Credit: ESA

Several hundred companies in 13 European countries took part in the development of Ariane 6, united under prime contractor ArianeGroup. Depending on the performance required, Ariane 6 will be available in two versions: a version with two boosters, called Ariane 62, and Ariane 64, with four boosters.

According to the official ESA information, at over 60 meters tall, Ariane 6 will weigh almost 900 tonnes when launched with a full payload – equivalent to one and a half Airbus A380 passenger aircraft. “Ariane 6 can put any satellite or payload into any orbital path, and even multiple on a single trip” – according to the post from official ESA’s account on X.

What is so special about the Ariane 6 rocket?

ESA Director Josef Aschbacher claims that Ariane 6 is the same class of heavy rocket as SpaceX’s Falcon 9. However, the main difference is reusability. ESA representatives aim to develop this capability in order to compete on the international space stage.

The European Space Agency (ESA) intends to increase the European role in the global space industry. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said, “Ariane 6 marks a new era of autonomous, versatile European space travel. This powerful rocket is the culmination of many years of dedication and ingenuity from thousands across Europe.”

Ariane 6’s second launch is scheduled for the end of the year, followed by a steady rise to around 10 launches a year. This launch is a significant event for the European space community. It is expected to increase the role of Europe in space exploration.

“Ariane 6 already has an order book of 30 missions”, said Stephane Israel, chief executive of launch service provider Arianespace.

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