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Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket powers into space
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Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket powers into space
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) Jul 10, 2024

Europe's new heavy-lift rocket, Ariane 6, has successfully completed its inaugural flight from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The launch took place at 16:00 local time on July 9, with the rocket lifting off and marking a new chapter in European space endeavors.

The Ariane 6, a significant advancement in the Ariane series, is designed to replace the Ariane 5. This latest iteration features a modular and versatile design, enabling it to undertake missions ranging from low-Earth orbit to deep space explorations.

"A completely new rocket is not launched often, and success is far from guaranteed. I am privileged to have witnessed this historic moment when Europe's new generation of the Ariane family lifted off - successfully - effectively reinstating European access to space," said ESA's Director General Josef Aschbacher. He expressed gratitude to the teams involved, noting their relentless work and dedication that brought this project to fruition. "Heartfelt thanks go to the teams at ESA, CNES, ArianeGroup, and Arianespace for their hard work to get to this point. I also want to sincerely thank our Member States for having enabled and supported the Ariane 6 programme along the way. Not always easy, but the endurance shown has paid off handsomely today."

The inaugural flight, designated VA262, served as a demonstration to exhibit Ariane 6's capabilities in reaching and operating in space. Despite being a test flight, it carried multiple payloads. An hour post-liftoff, the rocket successfully deployed its first set of satellites into a 600 km orbit. These included payloads from various space agencies, companies, research institutes, and universities, showcasing the rocket's versatility.

The successful launch also highlighted the effectiveness of the new launch pad and ground operations at Europe's Spaceport. This custom-built launch zone, developed by CNES, France's space agency, is designed to facilitate a quicker turnaround for Ariane launches.

Philippe Baptiste, CEO of CNES, remarked on the milestone, "With this first successful launch by Ariane 6, Europe has finally recovered its capacity to access space. Beyond the great emotion I am feeling right now, my first thoughts are for all the teams in Kourou, Paris, Vernon, Les Mureaux, Toulouse, Bremen, Lampoldshausen, Liege, Barcelona, Colleferro, Zurich and everywhere else in Europe who made this success possible. I would like to acknowledge the commitment of the employees of CNES, ESA, ArianeGroup, Arianespace and our subcontractors. The last few months have been intense, and I would like to thank them all. Europe can be proud of its space programme, Europe can be proud of its knowledge and expertise. Together, let's prepare the future of launchers and space."

Ariane 6 was constructed by ArianeGroup, the prime contractor and design authority. Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, commented on this landmark event, stating, "With the successful first flight of Ariane 6, the European space industry has moved into a new era. This historic launch demonstrates the unfailing commitment of our teams and partners, whom I would like to thank warmly for this success, which reflects on the entire European industry. Seeing Europe's new launcher lift off into space marks the culmination of an outstanding technical and technological adventure, and the beginning of a long history of Ariane 6 operations. The next flight models are already in production and the stages of the second model will be shipped to the Guiana Space Centre this autumn for the first commercial flight of Ariane 6."

Advancing Space Technology with Ariane 6
The deployment of satellites was only the beginning for Ariane 6's inaugural mission. The upper stage of the rocket demonstrated its restart capability using the novel auxiliary propulsion unit. This feature enables the rocket to deliver payloads to multiple orbits in future missions and ensures that the upper stage can deorbit safely, preventing space debris.

On this mission, the upper stage of Ariane 6 was tasked with releasing two reentry capsules. As the rocket re-entered Earth's atmosphere, these capsules ensured a clean disposal, burning up harmlessly to avoid adding to space debris.

Looking ahead, the next Ariane 6 launch is scheduled for later this year. This flight will mark the first commercial mission under the operation of Arianespace, the launch service provider.

Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace, highlighted the importance of this milestone, "The success of this first flight marks the start of Ariane 6's operational career, giving Europe an autonomous access to space. The new launcher's order book is proof of the versatility of Ariane 6 and of its capacity to accomplish a wide range of missions into multiple orbits. It reflects the confidence that customers have in Ariane 6 for both their institutional and commercial missions. We are eager to begin operating our new launcher."

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