TechEurope's Ariane 6 rocket poised for maiden voyage in July

Europe's Ariane 6 rocket poised for maiden voyage in July

A test model of the Ariane 6 rocket standing on the launch pad at the European spaceport in French Guiana
A test model of the Ariane 6 rocket standing on the launch pad at the European spaceport in French Guiana
Images source: © ESA | Manuel Pedoussaut
Karolina Modzelewska

8 July 2024 13:46, updated: 8 July 2024 16:35

The inaugural flight of Europe’s largest carrier rocket, Ariane 6, has been scheduled for 9 July. The rocket will launch at approximately 18:00 GMT from the spaceport in French Guiana. It will carry 18 payloads on board, including equipment from Poland. Scanway has provided a dual-camera optical system that will monitor two key phases of the flight.

The flight of the Ariane 6 rocket is an important test for Europe, which aims to regain independence in space transportation. These capabilities were lost with the retirement of the Ariane 5 rocket in 2023, which participated in 117 flights over its 27 years of service. Among them, 112 were successful. Ariane 6 is intended to facilitate the launch of payloads into orbit and increase competitiveness in commercial flights, currently dominated by SpaceX and the Falcon 9 rocket.

Ariane 6 - Europe's way to independence

After the end of Ariane 5 flights, ESA had to rely on external services, which involved additional costs and dependence on other companies’ schedules. The introduction of Ariane 6 restores full control over European activities in space, enabling the launch of payloads on its own terms and at convenient times. By having its own rocket, the European industry also minimises potential geopolitical and commercial risks and increases security through the ability to carry out strategic space projects, explains Maciej Myśliwiec from the Space Agency in an interview with WP Tech.

The expert adds that Ariane 6 has been designed to be more economical and flexible, allowing for a wide range of missions, from commercial satellites to scientific programmes in different weight variants. This will also broaden the spectrum of possible payloads and unlock "own" launch capabilities, our interlocutor points out. During the mission scheduled for 9 July, Ariane 6 will carry 18 payloads provided by space agencies, research institutes, companies and universities. One of them will be the YPSat (Young Professionals Satellite) with cameras provided by Scanway.

A Polish touch in the European mission

The task of the YPSat satellite is to capture the key phases of the inaugural flight of the Ariane 6 rocket. This would not be possible without the dual-camera optical system provided by Scanway. As the company explains, the solution consists of two wide-angle cameras, electronics and mechanical interfaces. It provides images in two modes: video up to 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps, and photos with a resolution of 12.3 Mpix.

The optical system "in the first phase of the flight (approximately 3 minutes and 39 seconds after launch) will monitor the process of separating the main rocket fairing, and in the later phase of the flight (approximately 66 minutes after launch) will record the separation of useful payloads placed on the rocket". The data collected in this way will help ESA in detailed flight analyses and also in the optimisation of future Ariane 6 journeys.

Ariane 6 - the European rocket of the future

Work on Ariane 6 began in 2014. When developing the rocket, ESA collaborated with space industries from 13 European countries, and its main contractor became ArianeGroup – a joint venture between Airbus Defence and Space and Safran. Ariane 6 will be available in two versions depending on the power needed for each flight.

The first – the Ariane 62 variant – has two solid rocket boosters, a height of 184 feet, and a lift-off mass of 531 tons. The Ariane 64 version will have four solid rocket boosters, a height of 203 feet, and a lift-off mass of 857 tons. The first variant is capable of putting a 10.3-ton payload into low Earth orbit and a 4.5-ton payload into geostationary orbit. The second one respectively 21.6 tons into low Earth orbit and 11.5 tons into geostationary orbit.

Ariane 6 is not the only rocket being developed in Europe that can increase independence in launching payloads into orbit. On 3 July, the ILR-33 BURSZTYN 2K rocket achieved a historic result for Poland and reached space. Analyses showed it reached an altitude of 101 kilometres. This means it crossed the so-called Kármán line, the conventional boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, set at an altitude of 100 kilometres. The Polish rocket's flight can be seen in the recording below:

ILR-33 BURSZTYN 2K is a solution developed by engineers from Łukasiewicz – the Institute of Aviation and is the world’s first rocket using 98% hydrogen peroxide as an oxidiser, one of the most environmentally friendly propellants. "Bursztyn", with a length of 16 feet and a diameter of 9 inches, will allow for the conduct of experiments, scientific research, and technology tests for the space industry in microgravity conditions without the need to send them to the International Space Station. It may also help in the development of rocket technologies in Poland, including short- and medium-range ballistic rockets.

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