Double Duty Debut: Ariane 6 Delivers Satellites, Demonstrates Next-Gen Engine Capability

Ariane 6, Europe's next-generation rocket, soared on its first mission. It delivered payloads and demonstrated a key technology: restarting its engine in space. This paves the way for deploying satellites in various orbits on future flights, while ensuring a clean burn-up on re-entry.

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Frontier India News Network
Frontier India News Network
Frontier India News Network is the in-house news collection and distribution agency.

On July 9, at 16:00 local time, Europe’s new heavy-lift rocket, Ariane 6, launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana for the first time.

Ariane 6 is the next in Europe’s Ariane rocket family, succeeding Ariane 5. Its modular and adaptable design allows it to launch missions from both low-Earth orbit and deep space.

According to ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, launching a wholly new rocket is rare, and success is not guaranteed.

The European Space Agency (ESA), Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), ArianeGroup, and Arianespace are all collaborating in the project. Ariane 6 was built by the prime contractor and design authority ArianeGroup.

This initial flight, dubbed VA262, is a demonstration flight designed to prove Ariane 6’s ability to escape Earth’s gravity and operate in space. Nevertheless, it carried numerous payloads.

After one hour of flight, the first set of satellites on board Ariane 6 were released from the upper stage and placed in orbit 600 kilometers above Earth. This maiden flight carried satellites and experiments from a variety of space organizations, companies, research institutes, universities, and young people.

In addition to the rocket, the liftoff highlighted the launch pad and ground operations at Europe’s Spaceport. CNES, France’s space agency, created the new custom-made dedicated launch zone, allowing for faster turnover of Ariane missions.

On the day of the launch, Philippe Baptiste, CEO of CNES, stated that with Ariane 6’s first successful launch, Europe had finally regained its space capability.

Ariane 6 has proved its ability to successfully launch payloads into space by placing satellites in orbit. Following the launch, Ariane 6’s upper stage demonstrated that it could restart its Vinci engine with the innovative auxiliary propulsion unit. This restart capability will allow Ariane 6 to dump numerous payloads into different orbits on future flights while deorbiting itself via Earth’s atmosphere at the end of its mission to avoid becoming space debris.

On this trip, the Ariane 6 upper stage was programmed to release two reentry capsules when they reached Earth’s atmosphere for safe disposal. These capsules would burn up harmlessly and leave no space trash in orbit.

The follow-on flight models are now in production, with stages of the second model being sent to the Guiana Space Centre this autumn for Ariane 6’s first commercial launch.

The Ariane 6 launch vehicle

There are actually two versions of Ariane 6, each with a different amount of solid rocket boosters put on for more kick:

The Ariane 62 (A62) version has two P120 rockets and is ideal for government and scientific missions. It weighs a heavy 530,000 kg upon launch and can carry payloads weighing up to 4,500 kg to a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), which is the type of orbit employed by communication satellites. Furthermore, it can carry up to 10,350 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO), making it perfect for deploying constellations of smaller satellites.

The Ariane 64 (A64) is a powerhouse with four P120 rockets, making it ideal for commercial launches. It weighs 860,000 kg and can carry payloads of up to 11,500 kg to GTO, making it ideal for launching large commercial communication satellites. It has the capability to launch 21,500 kg into low-Earth orbit.

The Ariane 6 is not exclusively focused on brute power. It is also intended to be efficient. In comparison to its predecessor, the Ariane 5, it has shorter development periods and lower production costs, which render space launches more cost-effective. The modular design of the rocket allows for customization in accordance with the specific requirements of the mission. It ensures exceptional dependability by capitalizing on the Ariane 5’s demonstrated success.


The Ariane 6 confronts fierce competition in the launch vehicle market, mainly from US Launchers.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 currently leads the launch market. It has a similar cargo capacity to the Ariane 6 but one key advantage: reusability. SpaceX recovers and relaunches its first stage, significantly lowering launch costs.

United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur is still in development but promises competitive lift capacity and reusability.

While Ariane 6 may not compete directly with reusability, it does have some advantages. It represents European independence. Using Ariane 6 gives Europe control over its own launch capabilities.

Ariane 6 is specifically engineered to launch big communication satellites into Geostationary Transfer Orbits (GTO), unlike its competitors, who focus on a wider variety of launches. The competition can be intense within this particular segment, particularly for the Ariane 64 variant.


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