Europe’s SpaceX competitor pushes rocket launch back to 2024

The European Space Agency’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket, Ariane 6, definitely won’t launch until at least 2024, the agency’s director general confirmed this week. 

Ariane 6 was first scheduled to launch four years ago. However, the rocket has suffered a series of delays, attributed to technical issues, COVID-19, and design changes. 

The ESA said the most recent setback was because it failed to complete a short hot firing test,, mimicking the environment in space to provide data to operators,of Ariane’s engine system in a July attempt. The ESA wants to reattempt the test on August 29, with tentative plans for a long hot fire test on September 26, at the agency’s spaceport in French Guiana

With Ariane 5 officially decommissioned and Italy’s Vega C rocket grounded following launch failure in December, Europe is now without independent access to space satellites. Until Ariane 6 gets up and running, the EU will be forced to contract the work to Elon Musk’s SpaceX — the company’s Falcon rocket is the only viable alternative for hauling large satellites into orbit.

Exactly when Ariane 6 will embark on its maiden voyage is uncertain. A press briefing with the Ariane 6 Launcher Task Force is scheduled for September 4 to provide an update on the launcher, ESA announced on Tuesday. 

Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël tweeted a timeline on Tuesday laying out the next steps for Ariane 6 testing ahead of an inaugural flight in 2024.

Despite its setbacks, Ariane 6 has a number of institutional launches to carry out, and it has been attracting commercial contracts, including 18 launches for Amazon’s Kuiper broadband megaconstellation project.

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