Europe 'back in space' despite Ariane 6 debut glitch

Ariane 6 was developed at an estimated cost of 4 billion euros by ArianeGroup, co-owned by Airbus and Safran

By
Web Desk
Europes Ariane 6 rocket takes off, in Kourou, French Guiana, July 9, 2024. — Reuters
Europe's Ariane 6 rocket takes off, in Kourou, French Guiana, July 9, 2024. — Reuters
  • Ariane 6 blasted off into space from Kourou, French Guiana.
  • Rocket deployed 3 sets of micro-satellites for research.
  • European space officials declared maiden trip successful.

European space bosses on Tuesday celebrated the successful debut flight of the Ariane 6 rocket, marking the continent's resurgence in space exploration.

Although the mission encountered a setback when the rocket failed to release its final batch of payloads, it restored Europe's independent access to space following delays, political setbacks and debates over funding, Reuters reported.

The inaugural launch, which commenced at 4pm local time in Kourou, French Guiana and was observed by a Rafale fighter jet, deployed three sets of micro-satellites for research, affirming the mission's success despite being non-commercial.

This prompted European space officials to declare the maiden trip a success.

"Europe is back in space," Philippe Baptiste, head of France's CNES space agency, said via video link to the Paris headquarters of the European Space Agency (ESA), where employees and politicians cheered the lift-off.

The Vinci engine, designed to restart repeatedly, was restarted in space for the first time, allowing Arianespace to place payloads into various orbits.

However, a third firing was abandoned due to a smaller power unit shutting down, leaving the final batch of payloads — two small capsules designed to test the conditions for surviving re-entry — stuck onboard.

"We had an anomaly...We are probably not going to finish this part of the mission as we were hoping to," said Tina Buchner da Costa, an Ariane 6 launch system architect.

The affected auxiliary power unit is a system crucial for the rocket's ability to put payloads in their intended orbit.

Its failure, although late in the mission, is expected to spur an engineering investigation.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said the agency was nonetheless on track to stage a second flight by year-end.

Ariane 6 was developed at an estimated cost of 4 billion euros by ArianeGroup, co-owned by Airbus and Safran. Its first launch, originally due in 2020, has been repeatedly delayed.

Since the agency retired its workhorse Ariane 5 rocket more than a year ago, Europe has had no independent means of sending its satellites into space, while war in Ukraine has cut Western ties to Russian Soyuz rockets and Italy's Vega C is grounded.