Ariane-6: Europe’s rocket blasts off on maiden flight

Europe’s new rocket, Ariane-6, has successfully completed its maiden flight. The rocket launched from a pad in French Guiana at 16:00 local time (19:00 GMT) on a demonstration mission to deploy several satellites into orbit. Ground crews in Kourou celebrated as the €4bn (£3.4bn) vehicle ascended into the sky.

After reaching the desired altitude and correctly releasing multiple small satellites, the rocket’s upper-stage encountered an anomaly at the end of the flight. Onboard computers decided to prematurely shut down the auxiliary power unit (APU), which pressurizes the propulsion system. This left the upper-stage unable to initiate the burn required to bring it out of orbit and complete the final task of jettisoning two re-entry capsules. Despite this issue, the flight was still declared a success.

“We’re relieved; we’re excited,” said Josef Aschbacher, the director general of the European Space Agency. “This is a historic moment. The inaugural launch of a new heavy-lift rocket doesn’t happen every year; it happens only every 20 or maybe 30 years. And today we have launched Ariane-6 successfully,” he told reporters.

Ariane-6 is designed to be a workhorse rocket, providing European governments and companies with independent access to space. While it already has a backlog of launch contracts, there are concerns that its expendable design could limit future prospects, especially compared to the latest American vehicles that are partially or wholly reusable.

Despite these concerns, European space officials are confident that Ariane-6 can secure a niche in the market. Although it appears similar to its predecessor, Ariane-5, Ariane-6 incorporates advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing, friction stir welding, and augmented reality design, which should enable faster and cheaper production.

Ariane-6 will operate in two configurations:
– The “62” version will feature two solid-fuel side boosters for lifting medium-sized payloads.
– The “64” version will have four strap-on boosters for launching the heaviest satellites on the market.

The rocket’s core stage is supplemented with a second, or upper, stage capable of stopping and restarting multiple times, which is beneficial for deploying large batches of satellites into a constellation or network.

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