July 20, 2024

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Europe’s newest rocket launches into space

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Europe’s first new heavy-lift rocket in almost 30 years soared into space on Tuesday, promising an end to a crisis over the region’s ability to deploy its own satellites into orbit.

Ariane 6, four years late and heavily subsidised to ensure it can compete against Elon Musk’s SpaceX, lifted off under clear skies from its launch pad near Kourou in French Guiana at about 4pm local time. 

The mission was judged a success by the European Space Agency which oversees the Ariane programme, despite the rocket encountering a problem with its auxiliary power unit in the final phase of the flight.

Josef Aschbacher, director-general of the ESA, was jubilant after Ariane 6 released its satellite payloads into orbit roughly one hour into the mission.

“We are making history now,” said Aschbacher. “There is still a bit of work to do but . . . this is such a beautiful moment.”

Technicians and engineers in the Guiana Space Centre’s Jupiter control room, many of whom have spent a decade working on the programme, applauded as the rocket flew through a series of milestones.

The most important was demonstrating that the Vinci engines powering the rocket’s upper stage could be stopped and restarted to deposit satellites into different orbits roughly 600km above earth.

However, the rocket’s auxiliary power unit — used to enable the reignition of the Vinci engines — encountered problems in the final stage of the flight.

The ESA insisted on the social media platform X that this only affected the end of the mission. “Ariane 6 demonstrated a successful lift off, launch to orbit and deployment of satellites powering Europe into space,” it said.

The launch should restore Europe’s independent access to space, where nations are battling to gain strategic and economic advantage.

But there are questions over how competitive Ariane 6 will be…

2024-07-09 18:22:30

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