Ariane 6 will not take off before the end of 2023

New disappointment for space Europe. The first Ariane 6 rocket model may have been completed in early October in Kourou, French Guiana, but the maiden flight will not take place before the fourth quarter of 2023. That is three years behind the initial program. Everything took a little longer than expectedrecognizes Stéphane Israël, head of Arianespace. But I’d rather we take a few extra months to test everything than rush it. “At this stage, the development costs of Ariane 6 amount to just under 4 billion euros, quantified the European Space Agency.

Worries about the new Vinci engine

Main innovation and therefore, very logically, main source of delay: the upper stage of the rocket and its brand new reignitable engine Vinci. The ground ignition tests of the engine, in Lampoldshausen (Germany), started several months late and are still continuing. At the same time, other concerns have affected the cryogenic arms, elements which frame the rocket on the ground to connect it to the launch pad and ensure the filling of the tanks.

Ariane 6 is not an evolution of Ariane 5, it is a real new ecosystem that had to be rethought, from the machining of parts to the links between ground controls and the rocket», justifies André-Hubert Roussel, president of ArianeGroup, the industrial prime contractor. The combined tests, which ensure the proper functioning of the rocket ecosystem, should precisely start in Kourou on the test launcher. The first rocket to take off for the maiden flight is finishing between Les Mureaux and Bremen.

No change for the contract with Amazon

On the side of Arianespace, there is little concern about the repercussions on marketing and in particular the large contract signed with Amazon last spring. The American giant has reserved 18 Ariane 6 launches to deploy satellites from its Kuiper constellation. The contract is resilient to schedule readjustments,” eludes Stéphane Israel.

The future is more vague for five institutional launches planned on Ariane 6. Impossible indeed to count on Ariane 5 to ensure the replacement. The remaining copies of the rocket are already reserved for future launches until mid-2023. Will Europe find itself without a heavy launcher? We we will respect the European choice to fly with Ariane 6 or non-European launchers depending on the urgency”, added Stéphane Israel.

Reports to American rockets

The choice seems to lean in favor of the Americans and SpaceX. Thursday, October 20, the European Space Agency decided to postpone the Euclid and Hera probes on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a snub for Europe in space. Euclid must study the expansion of the Universe while Hera will study the asteroid recently deflected by NASA during the Dart mission.

The fate of two launches planned for the Galileo constellation, the European GPS, and that of the French military satellite CSO-3 still remains to be decided. Initially scheduled to take off in 2021 on Ariane 6, this satellite was then transferred to Soyuz given the delays of the European rocket. The war in Ukraine has made this fallback solution impossible, and CSO-3 could therefore return to Ariane 6. Provided that the satellite can wait for this additional delay.


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