Ariane 6 takes off successfully and Europe declares its space independence

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Ariane 6 takes off successfully and Europe declares its space independence

“Europe has emerged from the launcher crisis,” said Joseph Aschbacher. European Space Agency (ESA, its abbreviation in English). It’s a bold statement because he made it a week before Ariane 6, the new and The new rocket, promising to give the old continent access to space on its own, took off for the first time. “Europe is an important space force and we need our own rockets to achieve our own space access,” he concluded. However, a strong race turned out well for Aschbacher, who was a front-line witness to how one of his biggest problems as head of ESA began to be solved when Ariane 6 went into space.

The big test is set for this Tuesday, July 9. Ariane 6 lifted off at 4pm local time (9pm in Spain) from the French Space Agency’s (CNES) space facilities in French Guiana, an hour later than planned due to problems with the ground data system. . The less than three-hour mission saw the new 56-metre rocket designed by ESA in collaboration with an industrial network of several hundred companies in 13 European countries, including the Spanish division of Airbus – led by prime contractor ArianeGroup. – There was a truth. A reality that almost doubled the time originally planned, as the rocket accumulated ten years of design and construction. Along with other problems, the ESA is mired in a perfect storm, dependent on others to reach space.

Four years late

The middle stage, Vulcain, was already tested with the successful Ariane 5, which was grounded in April last year. ESA had anticipated delays with the new launcher model and relied on reliable Soyuz rockets when Ariane 6 arrived, however, as a result of the war in Ukraine, the European agency severed all ties with its Russian partner Roscosmos. This allowed some missions such as ExoMars (the first European rover on Mars) to stay in the air. Others, such as Euclid, could not be delayed, so SpaceX was partnered.

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Several delays were caused by tests with the Vinci, a newly developed Ariane 6 upper stage that would carry various structures and payloads up to 30,000 kilometers above the surface, allowing it to carry everything from scientific missions to armies of satellites. For more civilized space constellations. In effect, Vinci acts as a launcher, as it not only opens its hatches and drops off probes, but also directs them to exactly where they need to be, including where they need to return to Earth.

In fact, two capsules that must have crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean were recovered from this flight. “Something that others like Ariane 5 can’t do, it’s unique, it can restart its engine at different altitudes, which allows it to put satellites in different orbits or in different planes, creating satellite constellations. That’s an advantage over other launchers on the market,” Aschbacher explained.

After completing its work in orbit, Vinci performs a series of maneuvers to avoid disintegrating due to friction with the atmosphere and creating more space debris. At this time the first stage, Vulcan, is not reusable (tests are carried out on a new core stage that returns to Earth), but the Ariane 6 is cheaper and more efficient than the Ariane 5. «Ariane 6 is Europe’s launcher for the future. “It could take European satellites from the global market and satellites into space, which could be for a decade or more,” Aschbacher said.

And the future begins now. The idea is to have a second flight later this year, four more in 2025 and eight in 2026. Starting in 2027, Ariane 6 will be launched with a schedule of nine flights per year, the idea is to carry both. ESA – such as scientific experiments and space missions – competes with private exports, even with Elon Musk. And ESA is even more ambitious: The idea is to have its own launcher for the ISS by 2028, and stop relying on SpaceX Crew Dragon or Russian Soyuz to transport its payload to the space lab. A new era of space has begun in Europe.

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