UTV

Europe's Ariane 6 rocket blasts off for the first time

Following its full-scale invasion of its neighbor, Russia suspended all European mission launches on its Soyuz rockets. A smaller alternative European rocket, the Vega-C, has been grounded since a failed 2022 launch, and is not expected to fly again until later this year at the earliest.

Despite rising costs and long delays, European leaders continue to support the Ariane 6 program, stressing the importance of the continent having its own access to space, rather than relying on SpaceX.

But Europe has already had to turn to SpaceX several times out of necessity as the company enjoys a near monopoly on the global launch market.

SpaceX’s reusable and comparatively low-price Falcon 9 rockets offer a compelling alternative to spacecraft that have been waiting for Ariane 6 to begin flying. Already, high-profile ESA missions such as the EarthCARE spacecraft, Euclid telescope and Galileo satellites have launched on SpaceX rockets.

Last month, European weather satellite operator EUMETSAT made the “exceptional” decision to swap an upcoming planned satellite launch from Ariane 6 to Falcon 9, a choice that was met with derision from other European officials.

“I am impatiently waiting to understand what reasons could have led Eumetsat to such a decision,” Philippe Baptiste, leader of France’s space agency CNES, wrote in a post on social media.

“How far will we, Europeans, go in our naivety?” Baptiste added.

Notably, while most US companies seeking to challenge SpaceX are leaning into reusable rocket technology, Ariane 6 is expendable similar to its predecessor — meaning each vehicle is a one-off that is discarded after the mission.

It is not just Europe’s desire for its own space access driving Ariane 6. The rocket has another crucial customer waiting for launches: Amazon
. The American tech giant has ordered a staggering 97 rocket launches from five companies, nearly a fifth of which were won by Arianespace to fly Project Kuiper internet satellites on Ariane 6.

MNA/PR

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