The chaotic odyssey of Ariane 6, the new European rocket which is slow to take off


NARRATIVE – The successor to the Ariane 5 rocket is accumulating difficulties. These headwinds contributed to weakening space Europe, the world leader until the mid-2010s, which was dethroned by the United States, but also by China, Japan and India.

It is between June 15 and July 31, 2024 thatAriane 6 must make its maiden flight. This announcement made Thursday by Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), is a relief. This inaugural flight is a crucial mission, intended to qualify the new European heavy launcher. There is an emergency because Europe has been deprived of autonomous access to space since July 2023 with the takeoff of the last Ariane 5. And with the unavailability of Vega C, new version of the small Italian rocket, until at the end of 2024, after the failure of its first commercial mission at the end of 2022.

Ariane 6 is four years behind schedule. That’s not all. The program suffered additional costs representing “less than 20%», according to the ESA, of the budget of 4 billion euros intended to finance the rocket, the boosters and the new launch pad at Kourou in Guyana. Loss-making, Ariane 6 needs a public subsidy of 140 million per year to balance its operation over the period 2024-2026, then 340 million per year between 2026 and 2028. These setbacks illustrate the difficulties of the Old Continent in space. From world leader until the mid-2010s with Ariane 5, Europe was dethroned by the United States, thanks to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, but also by China, Japan and India. How did we get here?

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