Ariane 6 has lift off! Historic rocket launches Europe back into space

The ESA launcher just entered orbit for the first time

Ariane 6 has lift off! Historic rocket launches Europe back into space

Finally, Europe has regained independent access to space.

The continent reestablished a sovereign launch capacity on Tuesday with the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 rocket. However, the mission didn’t go entirely to plan.

Built to take satellites into orbit, Ariane 6 lifted off from the European Spaceport in French Guiana at 16:00 local time (21:00 CEST).

The rocket then soared into the cosmos with a payload of satellites and experiments.

Ariane 6 then released the fight batch of cargo. But a problem struck before the final payloads could be delivered.

The launch team blamed an anomaly in the rocket’s upper-stage. Nonetheless, they declared the overall mission a success. It also closed a dismal chapter for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Since the retirement of Ariane 5 last July, Europe has relied on Elon Musk’s SpaceX to send satellites into orbit.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s commissioner for the internal market, described the problem as an “unprecedented crisis.” The arrival of Ariane 6 resolves that crisis.

Nonetheless, doubts about the rocket persist.

Ariane 6’s future

With a whopping €4bn price tag and four years of delays, the development of Ariane 6 sparked controversy.

Critics have also questioned the launcher’s expendable build. Among them is Musk, whose SpaceX rockets cuts costs and turnaround times by reusing their boosters.

Musk has advised competitors to follow a similar path.

“They need to go all-in on reusability or be utterly uncompetitive,” he said last July. “Rockets are no different from other transport technologies, just harder to make reusable.

“No one would buy a single-use airplane, car or even bicycle! You’d need to tow another car just for the return trip.”

In response, ESA argued that a reusable design would be too expensive.

“Our launch needs are so low that it wouldn’t make sense economically,” Toni Tolker-Nielsen, the agency’s director of space transportation, told SpaceNews in June.

For now, ESA can at least celebrate renewed access to space. The agency plans to make nine or 10 Ariane 6 launches per year.

Update (08:15AM CEST, July 10, 2024): Updated to reflect the anomaly that occurred towards the end of the mission.

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