European rocket Ariane 6 succeeds in putting its satellites into orbit

European rocket Ariane 6 succeeds in putting its satellites into orbit
European rocket Ariane 6 succeeds in putting its satellites into orbit

The European Ariane 6 rocket managed to put into orbit the 10 microsatélites it was carrying, which represents a triumph for the first flight of the European spacecraft, despite a problem during its re-entry into the atmosphere at the end of its mission.

“This is a historic day for ESA and for Europe,” said ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher.

For his counterpart at the French space agency Cnes, Philippe Baptiste, “Europe is back”.

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This success marks the return of autonomous access to space for Europe, but at the end of the mission a malfunction occurred and the rocket deviated from its trajectory.

The re-entry into the atmosphere of the upper part of the rocket, which was to land in the Pacific far from inhabited places, it did not occur.

But this “anomaly” does not erase the relief of the European officials at the success of their main objective: placing satellites in orbit.

“It’s a great success, despite a slight disappointment at the end of the mission,” said Walther Pelzer, director of the German space agency DLR.

In the Jupiter Room, the mission control tower located 17 km from the launch platform, Launch in KourouIn French Guiana, the calm of the operators contrasted with the excitement of a flight that ESA has been awaiting for four years.

“Nominal propulsion, trajectory as expected,” announced director of operations Raymond Boyce, to applause from the room.

Even before the flight was successful, NASA chief Bill Nelson celebrated on social media X “a giant step for ESA” with the first launch of its powerful new generation rocket.”

Historically, almost half of first rocket launches have been failures, as in 1996 for the first Ariane 5 which, however, out of a total of 117 launches, only failed twice.

“Increasing frequency”

The rocket, whose launch has been delayed four years, was carrying a dozen university microsatellites.

It also carries two atmospheric reentry capsules that will be jettisoned at the end of the mission, about three hours after takeoff. These capsules, developed by the Franco-German start-up The Exploration Company and Arianegroup, are intended to prepare the space cargo to supply space stations.

Ariane 6, launched in 2014, is capable of launching geostationary satellites at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres, as well as satellite constellations hundreds of kilometres above Earth.

For this purpose, the upper floor of the rocket has a Vinci enginethe ship’s main innovation.

During the flight, the Vinci engine was successfully ignited on two occasions to bring the upper deck to the place from which it launched the capsules, one hour and six minutes after take-off.

When the engine turns on one last time the upper floor will return to the atmosphere from where it will fall into the Pacific, near Point Nemo, the furthest point from any land area.

This Ariane 6 flight was strategic for the Europeans and their continuity against the American giant SpaceX, which launches its reusable Falcon 9 rockets about twice a week.

From Ariane 5’s last flight a year agothe Europeans can no longer put a satellite into orbit on their own. And since the invasion of Ukraine, they no longer have access to the Russian Soyuz medium launch vehicle. In addition, the Vega-C rocket has been grounded since late 2022 following an accident.

After this first flight, it will take several months to analyse the data transmitted by the rocket’s multiple sensors before a first commercial launch at the end of the year, probably with the French military observation satellite CSO-3.

The next challenge will be to “achieve increased frequency” of flights, according to Toni Tolker-Nielsen. Six flights are planned in 2025 and eight the following year.

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Ariane 6 has 29 flights on its order book, an “absolutely unprecedented success for a rocket that has never flown,” said Stéphane Israel, head of Arianespace, the company responsible for marketing and operating the rocket.

However, the program recently suffered a setback: Eumetsat, the meteorological satellite operator Europeans, cancelled at the end of June the launch of its MTG-S1 satellite planned with Ariane 6 in early 2025. Instead, it will do so with SpaceX, citing “exceptional circumstances”, which it did not specify.

A decision by an intergovernmental body of 30 European countries at the expense of the principle of European sovereignty is “difficult to understand”, according to ESA chief Joseph Aschacher.

With information from AFP.


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