Ariane 6 rocket’s successful launch puts Europe back in space

10 Jul 2024

Image: © M Pédoussaut/ESA

After years of delays, Europe’s new heavy-lift rocket made its inaugural flight yesterday, providing the main route to space for the continent’s scientific missions.

“It’s a historic day for Europe.”

Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency, said this an hour after the historic launch of the long-awaited Ariane 6 rocket’s maiden voyage, which took place yesterday (9 July) at 8pm Irish time.

Ariane 6 is the latest in Europe’s Ariane rocket series, development for which first began 10 years ago. This inaugural flight is a demonstration flight to show the capabilities and prowess of Ariane 6 in escaping Earth’s gravity and operating in space.

The rocket passed most of its milestones without any complications, propelling itself through orbit and deploying its first satellites.

One anomaly in the final phase of the flight saw the engine’s reignition stop prematurely, preventing the rocket from finishing its mission as expected. However, during the post-launch press conference, Arianespace chief executive Stéphane Israël said the anomaly “has no consequence on the next launches”.

‘A demonstration of European excellence’

Aschbacher said he was privileged to witness the “historic moment” of the Ariane 6 liftoff, “effectively reinstating European access to space”.

“An inaugural launch is a huge undertaking from thousands of people who have worked relentlessly for years,” he said. “To see it perform wonderfully at the first attempt is testament to their dedication and a demonstration of European excellence in engineering and technology.”

Designed and built by French aerospace company ArianeGroup on behalf the ESA, the Ariane 6 rocket is carrying satellites, deployers and experiments from many companies, research institutes, universities, young professionals and space agencies.

Dublin-based Réaltra built two key technologies for the French-designed rocket: a video telemetry system and a global navigation satellite system.

The latest rocket is taking over from Ariane 5, which has been Europe’s principal launch system for nearly 30 years before retiring in 2023.

Notable payloads from Ariane 5 include ESA’s comet-chasing Rosetta mission, a dozen of Europe’s Galileo navigation satellites and the James Webb Space Telescope. Ariane 5’s final ESA mission sent JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) on its way to explore Jupiter and its icy moons.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic