The European Space Agency has once again delayed the first Ariane-6 launch, shifting it to the fourth quarter of 2023.
Even so, officials warned that this is merely “a planned date,” and that static fire tests of both the first stage and second stage must first be completed before the launch can go forward.
Ariane-6 was initially supposed to begin launching in 2020, putting it three years behind schedule. Furthermore, it has struggled to obtain customers, as it is entirely expendable and thus expensive and not competitive with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
Since Ariane-6 is delayed and the Ariane-5 rocket’s has only a few launches left before retirement, ESA officials also noted that it has now been forced to buy two launches from SpaceX.
The launches include the Euclid space telescope and the Hera probe, a follow-up mission to NASA’s DART spacecraft which last month succeeded in altering the path of a moonlet in the first test of a future planetary defence system. “The member states have decided that Euclid and Hera are proposed to be launched on Falcon 9,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told reporters after a meeting of the 22-nation agency’s ministerial council.
The launches will take place in 2023 and 2024 respectively.
The irony is that ESA is probably going to save a lot of money launching with the Falcon 9, rather than its own Ariane-6. In fact, I would not be surprised if the total SpaceX price for both launches equals one Ariane-6 launch. Furthermore, SpaceX gets this business because its own American competitors, ULA and Blue Origin, have also failed to get their new rockets flying on time.
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