TechThe first flight of Europe's Ariane 6 rocket marks a new space era

The first flight of Europe's Ariane 6 rocket marks a new space era

Ariane 6
Ariane 6
Images source: © ESA | David Ducros

6:39 AM EDT, July 10, 2024

As previously announced, though with a slight delay, Europe's largest launch vehicle, Ariane 6, successfully launched. The rocket took off from the spaceport in French Guiana. The European Space Agency (ESA) declared the mission successful minutes after liftoff. Everything proceeded as planned: the rocket safely separated its boosters, and the second-stage engine was successfully reignited at approximately 360 miles.

The flight of the Ariane 6 is a significant milestone for the ESA. This new design replaces the aging Ariane 5, which completed its final flight in July 2023. During this period, Europe lost its independence in launching various objects into space, essentially lacking the means to carry payloads into space.

Start of the new ESA rocket

The first flight of Ariane 6 is a milestone for the ESA and an opportunity for Europe to regain its independence in space missions. Before the flight, the Ariane 6 was transported to French Guiana, involving a notable Polish contribution.

Subsequently, scientists conducted essential tests to verify all critical systems enabling the flight. The process went smoothly, leading to Ariane 6's successful launch into space.

Note that Ariane 6 is a two-stage launch vehicle, with development costs estimated at over 3.6 billion euros. The rocket is powered by engines fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It consists of three main components: the first (core) stage, the boosters, and the second stage.

Ariane 6 comes in two versions. The less powerful version has two boosters, while the more powerful one has four. The flight on Tuesday, July 9, featured the less powerful variant with two boosters.

The first stage of Ariane 6 is powered by a single Vulcain 2.1 engine, which uses a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen mixture. This stage measures 18 feet in diameter and contains 140 tons of fuel.

The second stage has the same diameter as the core stage and is powered by a liquid hydrogen and oxygen mixture. It has a Vinci rocket engine produces 40,000 pounds of thrust and holds about 31 tons of fuel. The final component, the boosters, provide additional thrust during liftoff.

Flight plan of Ariane 6

According to the ESA's plan, Ariane 6 should separate its side boosters from the main rocket shortly after launch. The 207-foot-tall rocket's stages are scheduled to be separated around the eighth minute of the flight. These tasks were completed without issues during Tuesday's flight.

The scientists' plan dictates that the core stage will be placed in an orbit 435 miles above Earth. It will then perform a maneuver to reach a circular orbit 360 miles from Earth, where it will release eight satellites. The deorbiting process will occur above the NEMO point in the Pacific Ocean.

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