ESA Director General: Ariane 6 aiming for summer 2024 debut
Baku, December 1, AZERTAC
Lengthy delays for the debut of Europe’s future flagship rocket may have an end in sight, according to Spaceflight Now.
During a briefing with press on Thursday, European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher announced that Ariane 6 would have its first launch between mid-June and the end of July in 2024.
The announcement comes a week after a seven-minute hot fire test of the rocket’s core stage engines in Kourou, French Guiana. The hefty delays to a launch vehicle that was originally supposed to debut in 2020 stem from a combination of “very severe” technical issues and a mismanaged schedule, according to Aschbacher.
“When I started as DG of ESA some two and a half years ago, I asked immediately for an assessment of the situation on Ariane 6 and it became crystal clear after a few months of very intense investigations that the schedule and some technical issues on Ariane 6 are not in a very good shape,” he said. “This is something that of course is highly disturbing.”
The intention was for the Ariane 6 to start flying while overlapping the Ariane 5, so that there would be a smooth transition of launch capabilities, similar to what United Launch Alliance is doing with its shift away from its Atlas 5 and Delta 4 Heavy rockets and towards Vulcan.
ESA was hit with a double whammy when its small launch vehicle, Vega C, was grounded late last year following an anomaly about 150 seconds into flight.
Aschbacher said there were two main lifelines that are helping them navigate this European launch “crisis”: working to aggressively book flights on the Ariane 6 and the Vega C through the end of the decade and kicking off a launcher challenge to spur the creation of more commercial rockets.
“This looks beyond Ariane 6 and beyond Vega C to create a new launcher of the future, which of course will only fly in the next decade,” Aschbacher said.
He pointed to the Ariane 6 Launcher Task Force, which has also helped in steering the ship towards getting the rocket on track towards a summer 2024 launch.
Ariane 6’s path to summer 2024 launch
One of the biggest milestones before the Ariane 6 maiden launch was the hot fire test, which happened on Nov. 23 and was designed to cover “the entire core stage flight phase,” according to the latest task force summary.
While the burn of the Vulcain 2.1 engine didn’t last the full, advertised 470 seconds, Toni Tolker-Nielsen, the director of space transportation at ESA, said that they were still able to achieve all of their test objectives.