Ariane 6 launch debut pushed into 2023

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TAMPA, Fla. — The maiden flight for Ariane 6 that had been slated toward the end of 2022 is now targeting next year, European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher said June 13.

Aschbacher said Ariane 6 is set to fly “some time” in 2023 during a BBC interview without giving a reason for the delay.

Just a few weeks ago, a senior executive for Arianespace said it was preparing to conduct the inaugural launch toward the end of 2022 from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Arianespace referred questions to ESA, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ariane 6 had previously been scheduled to debut in 2020 before suffering multiple delays following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next-generation launcher comes in two versions: Ariane 64 with four boosters and Ariane 62 with two. They are designed to replace Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the medium-lift Soyuz rocket sourced from Russia, respectively.

Arianespace expects to deploy satellites for Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation with Ariane 6 in the mission that follows its inaugural launch.

Ariane 6 commercial customers include Viasat and Amazon’s Project Kuiper megaconstellation

Europe is also developing a successor to Vega, its small launch vehicle, called Vega C.

According to an ESA media invitation June 7, Arianespace is due to conduct Vega C’s inaugural launch July 7 at 7:13 a.m. Eastern from Kourou.

Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Italian rocket maker Avio that is Vega’s prime contractor and a subcontractor for Ariane 6, discussed development timelines for both launchers in a recent SpaceNews interview.

Aschbacher also said during the BBC interview that Europe has still “not decided what will happen or [what] will be the future” of the ExoMars rover mission it had shared with Russia. 

He said ESA is “working with NASA to see whether they could be a partner on this mission,” after suspending cooperation with Russia in March in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, he stressed that a decision had not been made on how to proceed with the scientific mission.

ExoMars was previously set to launch in September on a Russian Proton rocket, and use a landing platform from Russia to deliver the ESA-built Rosalind Franklin rover to the surface of Mars.

Speaking at a May 3 meeting of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), Jorge Vago, ExoMars project scientist at ESA, said he doubted a new lander could be ready by 2026 and that he believed the rover’s launch would be delayed to at least 2028.