Ariane 6 rocket to be launched soon, in highly competitive space

Ariane 6 rocket to be launched soon, in highly competitive space
Ariane 6 rocket to be launched soon, in highly competitive space

The long-awaited rocket launch Ariane 6 is fast approaching. July 9 is the date announced by Josef Aschbacher, the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA). Initially planned for 2020, its launch has been disrupted by numerous postponements, particularly due to the Covid pandemic.

Developed to compete with the American SpaceX launcher, the new European heavy launcher highlights its versatility. It will be able to deploy constellations of satellites in different orbits thanks to its relightable Vinci engine. On the other hand, its main stage will not be reusable, unlike that of the Falcon 9the launcher developed by SpaceX. A point on which “We must work for the future”says the head of ESA.

“Europe is back in the game. We are coming out of the launcher crisis”

Europe has been in a delicate situation in recent months, deprived of its own access to space since the final flight of the heavy launcher Ariane 5in July 2023, and the failure of the first commercial flight of the new Italian rocket Vega-Cin 2022. “The program was delayed, we all suffered, but it is Europe’s return to access to space”says the president of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), Philippe Baptiste.

Ariane 6 therefore comes to replace Ariane 5which last year carried out the last of its 117 launches in 28 years. It is entering a market for medium and heavy space launchers in full transition, marked by the dominance of SpaceX and the desire of states to guarantee their own access to space.

Power developed

This rocket is powerful enough to place geostationary satellites (stationary relative to the Earth) into orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres. All this while being capable of sending larger loads into low orbits, at a few hundred kilometres, according to the specialist firm Euroconsult.

The European rocket comes in two versions: the first, Ariane 62with two boosters, can carry 4.5 tonnes to geostationary orbit and 10.3 tonnes to low orbit, slightly more than the Russian launcher Soyuz. The second, Ariane 64will be able to put 11.5 tonnes into a geostationary orbit and 21.6 tonnes into low orbit. The 20-ton limit marks the distinction between medium and heavy launchers, according to NASA’s classification.

Fierce competition

Despite its gain in power, competition remains fierce in the space sphere. In particular, H3Japan’s new rocket with up to four boosters and a capacity of 6.5 tonnes in geostationary orbit, which made its first flight in February. Long March 5 also arrives in force, with a heavy version of the Chinese rocket family. It has been fired 12 times since 2016. It has a capacity of 25 tons in low orbit and 14 tons in geostationary transfer orbit.

The American company SpaceX has also developed the Falcon Heavycapable of placing nearly 27 tons in geostationary orbit and 64 tons in low orbit. After years of delay, the first flight of the reusable rocket of Blue Origin is scheduled for September 2024, according to NASA, which will be the inaugural customer.

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