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Europe Launches Its Powerful New Rocket for the First Time

Europe Launches Its Powerful New Rocket for the First Time

The rocket is now on an hourslong journey that will conduct a series of maneuvers in space while deploying satellites and other payloads in orbit. The rocket’s side boosters have separated from the main booster, and about seven minutes into the flight, it dropped off and detached from the rocket’s upper stage. Once the upper stage is free, it will fire its engine to begin the process of placing itself into low-Earth orbit.

ESA is continuing to stream a live broadcast of the rocket on its journey with commentary which you can watch above, or on YouTube.

Europe has been without independent access to space since 2023, when Ariane 5, the vehicle that preceded Ariane 6, flew for the last time. Another smaller ESA rocket, Vega-C, has been grounded since 2022 because of a flight failure.

In the past, many of Europe’s missions flew on Russian Soyuz rockets. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a break in the relationship in 2022, ending Europe’s use of Russian launchers.

At the same time, Europe’s need to get to space — including for climate monitoring, navigation satellites and exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond — has only grown. For the past year, key missions by ESA have flown on SpaceX rockets, including the agency’s Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer, two Galileo navigation system satellites and the Euclid space telescope. Hera, an ESA spacecraft that will visit a pair of asteroids, is scheduled to be launched by SpaceX in the fall.

Rather than relying on international partners, a rocket built at home could guarantee that European missions, both institutional and commercial, will be prioritized on their own terms.

Built by ArianeGroup, a French aerospace company, Ariane 6 is the latest model in a family of rockets stretching back to the 1970s.

Compared with the now-retired Ariane 5, Ariane 6 comes with several improvements, like an upper stage powered by an engine that can be reignited up to four times. This makes it possible for missions requiring orbits of different altitudes to fly on a single rocket. The last boost can also be used to maneuver the upper stage out of orbit, where it will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere instead of contribute to the growing population of space junk.

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