Ariane 6 Launch: Watch the First Flight of Europe's New Rocket

The European Space Agency has waited nearly a decade for the first launch of Ariane 6, a powerful new rocket. But the brand-new vehicle is finally ready to fly, and if all goes well, European nations will once again have independent access to the final frontier, a crucial step for space exploration and the economic goals of the continent's countries and companies.

Here's what to know about the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 heavy-lift launcher.

Ariane 6 is scheduled for launch on Tuesday 9 July from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

ESA will stream the flight live on YouTube, starting at 13:30 CEST.

Europe has been without independent access to space since 2023, when Ariane 5, the predecessor to Ariane 6, last flew. Another smaller ESA rocket, Vega-C, has been grounded since 2022 due to a flight failure.

In the past, many of Europe's missions flew on Russian Soyuz rockets. But Russia's invasion of Ukraine led to a breakdown in relations in 2022, ending Europe's use of Russian launchers.

At the same time, Europe’s need for space, including for climate monitoring, navigation satellites, and exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond, has only grown. Over the past year, key ESA missions have been flown on SpaceX rockets, including the agency’s Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer, two Galileo navigation system satellites, and the Euclid space telescope. Hera, an ESA spacecraft that will visit a pair of asteroids, is due to be launched by SpaceX this fall.

Instead of relying on international partners, a home-grown rocket could ensure that European missions, both institutional and commercial, are prioritized on their own terms.

Built by ArianeGroup, a French aerospace company, Ariane 6 is the latest model in a family of rockets that dates back to the 1970s.

Compared to the now-retired Ariane 5, the Ariane 6 features several improvements, such as an upper stage powered by an engine that can be re-ignited up to four times. This allows missions requiring orbits of different altitudes to be flown on a single rocket. The final thrust can also be used to maneuver the upper stage out of orbit, where it will burn up in Earth's atmosphere instead of contributing to the growing population of space junk.

The new rocket has a maximum height of 203 feet and is available in two versions. Ariane 62, with two boosters, has a maximum liftoff weight of 540 metric tons and can carry payloads of up to 10.3 metric tons into low Earth orbit. Ariane 64 has four boosters with a maximum liftoff weight of 870 metric tons and can carry up to 21.6 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

In contrast, the latest version of the Ariane 5 could carry payloads of about 20 tons into low Earth orbit, while SpaceX's Falcon 9 can lift nearly 23 tons.

On Tuesday, ESA will test the capabilities of its two-booster design, Ariane 62.

A series of small missions from companies, government agencies and research institutes will head into space on the first flight of Ariane 6. Some of the spacecraft will be deployed in Earth orbit, including NASA's Cubesat Radio Interferometry Experiment, which will measure how solar radiation interacts with Earth's atmosphere. Other payloads, such as ESA's Young Professionals Satellite, will remain on board and collect data during the flight.

Two reentry capsules will also be released to demonstrate new technology that can pass through Earth's atmosphere and could one day bring back cargo from space.

Arianespace’s launch schedule for Ariane 6 is booked through mid-2028, with 30 flights planned for a variety of customers. That includes 18 launches for Project Kuiper, Amazon’s effort to build a constellation of space-based internet satellites that will eventually rival SpaceX’s Starlink service.

If Tuesday's launch is successful, another Ariane 6 rocket is expected to fly as early as December. Six more launches are scheduled for 2025; next year, eight are planned, including ESA's Plato mission, a space telescope that will hunt for exoplanets. Eventually, Arianespace hopes to maintain an average rate of nine flights per year.

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