ESA’s new heavy-lift rocket, Ariane 6, is poised to launch for the first time on Tuesday

Europe has been without its own launch vehicle for the last year after the retirement of Ariane 5.

ESA / L. Bourgeon

Ariane 6, the European Space Agency’s next-gen heavy-lift rocket, is expected to take its inaugural flight on July 9, ending a yearlong gap in Europe’s ability to access space on its own. The launch vehicle, made by ArianeGroup, replaces Ariane 5, which was retired last July following its 117th mission. The launch window opens at 2PM ET on Tuesday (8PM CEST).

Ariane 5 was in operation from 1996 to 2023 and was ESA’s main launch system. Ariane 6 was supposed to take over right away after its predecessor’s retirement, but years of delays in its development meant it ultimately wasn’t ready in time. As a result, ESA has had to rely on other launch providers, like SpaceX, to get science missions off the ground over the last year. If all goes smoothly with Ariane 6, Europe will be back in the game. “Ariane 6 marks a new era of autonomous, versatile European space travel,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said in June, adding that it “will re-establish Europe’s independent access to space.”

Ariane 6 will launch from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. It’ll be streamed on ESA Web TV, with coverage expected to start 30 minutes before liftoff.