WASHINGTON — The first launch of the Ariane 6 is expected in the first half of July as the vehicle takes shape at its French Guiana launch site.

The European Space Agency announced May 21 that the joint team working on the Ariane 6, including ESA, prime contractor ArianeGroup, launch services provider Arianespace and the French space agency CNES, expect the Ariane 6 inaugural launch to take place in the first two weeks of July.

That is in the middle of a time frame previously announced by ESA of somewhere between the middle of June and end of July. ESA said a specific, albeit tentative, date for the launch will be announced at the ILA air show in Berlin, scheduled for June 5 to 9.

The update was the first refinement of the launch date since November 2023, when ESA announced the window of the middle of June to the end of July. Officials previously said that they would provide an update on the launch after the completion of a qualification review slated to end in late April.

In the latest update, ESA said it completed that qualification review April 29. Workers have also started to stack the rocket itself, attaching its two solid rocket boosters to the core stage. The upper stage and payloads will be installed in June ahead of a fueling test and practice countdown called a wet dress rehearsal scheduled for June 18.

While ESA had not provided an update until now on the Ariane 6 launch dates, executives with two major suppliers said they believed the launch was on schedule. “It seems to me we’re going in the right direction for a flight in July,” Giulio Ranzo, chief executive of Avio, said of Ariane 6 in a May 9 earnings call. Avio produces the solid rocket motors used in the Ariane 6 strap-on boosters.

“We are very confident that Ariane 6 will launch within the known launch period from mid-June through the end of July,” Marco Fuchs, chief executive of OHB, said in his company’s May 8 earnings call. “I think preparations are going very well.”

Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, called the first launch of Ariane 6 the “big event of the year” for Europe in space during a session of the 39th Space Symposium in April. A successful flight of the long-delayed Ariane 6 would help alleviate the “launcher crisis” that has forced ESA and the European Commission to purchase several Falcon 9 launches from SpaceX. That includes the scheduled May 28 launch of EarthCARE, a joint Earth science mission of ESA and the Japanese space agency JAXA, on a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

At Space Symposium, though, Aschbacher worked to set expectations about that first flight. “Statistically, there’s a 47% chance the first flight may not succeed or happen exactly as planned,” he said, citing the track record of first launches of new large launch vehicles. “We’ll do everything we can to make it a successful flight but I think it’s something that we have to keep in mind.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...