Ariane 6: New rocket finally lifts off and gives Europe access to space

The European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 rocket has finally, successfully taken off – in a flight that could change the continent’s access to space.

The successful launch comes after four years of delays and allows Europe to launch its own flights and satellites into space, without having to pay other companies such as SpaceX.

Ariane 6 replaces Ariane 5, which took its last flight almost exactly a year ago. Since then, Europe has been without the ability to launch its own rockets.

The new Ariane 6 rocket had been intended to be ready long before then, with a first launch in 2020. But a run of delays meant that the mission ran into problems and a host of criticism.

The European Space Agency pronounced the inaugural launch from its spaceport in French Guiana on the evening of Tuesday, 9 July, as a success that helped prove the usefulness of the project, however.

The first mission took its first set of satellites up with it, and launched them in an orbit 600km above Earth. It included a range of different hardware and experiments from space agencies, universities and others.

Josef Aschbacher, the European Space Agency’s director general, hailed the flight for giving Europe its access to space. He noted that the journey to launching the rocket was “not always easy” but said that the work to overcome the problems had “paid off”.

“A completely new rocket is not launched often, and success is far from guaranteed. I am privileged to have witnessed this historic moment when Europe’s new generation of the Ariane family lifted off – successfully – effectively reinstating European access to space,” he said.

“An inaugural launch is a huge undertaking from thousands of people who have worked relentlessly for years. To see it perform wonderfully at the first attempt is testament to their dedication and a demonstration of European excellence in engineering and technology.

“Heartfelt thanks go to the teams at ESA, CNES, ArianeGroup and Arianespace for their hard work to get to this point. I also want to sincerely thank our Member States for having enabled and supported the Ariane 6 programme along the way. Not always easy, but the endurance shown has paid off handsomely today.”