Ariane 6, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) rocket aimed at rivalling the services provided by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, will not launch this year, the body has now confirmed.
Initially set for its first lift-off in 2020, the ESA spacecraft has experienced numerous delays, forcing European Union Member States to rely on US billionaire Musk’s privately-owned alternative rocket to get satellites into orbit.
In a statement published on August 9, ESA director Josef Aschbacher dashed hopes that Ariane 6 would enter service this year, instead saying that its maiden flight will likely take place sometime in 2024.
Speaking to Brussels Signal, a spokesperson for the space agency said that there were numerous factors leading to this latest delay.
“We had expected to finish both the short- and long-firing tests of the main stage in Kourou [French Guiana] and the long-firing test of upper stage in Lampoldshausen [Germany], before the summer break,” the spokesperson said, adding that such tests had “slipped” and were now planned for the end of September this year.
A month’s delay in the launch of the last Ariane 5 mission is also said to have compromised the agency’s schedule, ultimately forcing it to push back Ariane 6’s first official launch to next year.
The spokesperson expressed confidence that the first launch will not be delayed beyond 2024, describing the agency as being in the “last leg of this development journey”.
Ariane 6’s almost four-year delay has had a negative impact on European infrastructure independence, with the bloc having been forced to turn to SpaceX to get EU satellites into space.
This is despite the fact that European Commission bigwigs in Brussels have recently been sparring with the tech billionaire Musk, threatening him with the possibility of banning Twitter (now called X) in the EU if he fails to implement the bloc’s incoming digital censorship rules.
While the rocket’s delay has left much of Europe high-and-dry, the ESA insisted that Ariane 6 was already a “commercial success” and that the spacecraft has been designed with large-scale production in mind.
Some “28 launch service contracts have already been signed”, the agency representative said.
“Industrialisation of the production chain of Ariane 6 has been taken into account during the conception of Ariane 6, which will allow a fast ramp-up of production.”
The spokesperson added that further details regarding launch plans for Ariane 6 will be unveiled in September.
The @ESA is set on taking Europe's story forward in a way that inspires and brings people along with it; the European Commission, Parliament, and Council appear less so, writes @jrfjeffrey.@RupertSheldrake | @AschbacherJosef | @ESA_History | @ESA_Euclid https://t.co/eYhrrcOdX8
— Brussels Signal (@brusselssignal) July 29, 2023