Arianespace targets 2023 for lunar Ariane 6 rideshare mission

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WASHINGTON — European launch provider Arianespace is planning a rideshare mission to the moon in 2023 as an early step toward increasing Europe’s involvement in lunar activity, CEO Stéphane Israël said Oct. 22.  

Israël, speaking at the 70th International Astronautical Congress here, said the rideshare mission will be able to deliver 8,500 kilograms into a lunar transfer orbit. Orbiters and/or landers would reach the moon three days after liftoff, he said. 

“In 2023, we are ready to offer the first rideshare mission to the moon with Ariane 6,” Israël said, adding that Arianespace is “contemplating public and private customers” for that mission. 

Ariane 6, which has its first flight in 2020, will not launch humans, Israël said. But Arianespace would like to see Europe conduct its own crewed missions and is poised to lobby for that goal. Israël said Arianespace will push for a European crewed spaceflight program at the European Space Agency’s 2022 ministerial meeting, where its member states will decide on what programs to fund for the following three years. 

“I would like, for this [2022] conference ministerial, [that] we start working on human flight through a European launcher,” he said. 

Israël said Arianespace would not make that push at ESA’s Space 19+ ministerial next month in Spain. 

Arianespace’s flagship heavy lift launcher, the Ariane 5, was designed to launch a crewed European spaceplane called Hermes, but ESA canceled the project in 1992 after schedule delays and cost overruns. Ariane 5, in its history of more than 100 flights, has mainly launched telecommunications satellites. From 2008 to 2014, Arianespace launched a series of five cargo vessels  — European Automated Transfer Vehicles — to the International Space Station for ESA using Ariane 5 rockets. 

Israël said Arianespace is aware of two ESA lunar programs to be considered at the 2019 ministerial for which Ariane 6 is “perfectly adapted.” France and Germany, the two biggest financial and industrial backers of the Ariane 6 program, are also considering a robotic lunar mission using Ariane 6, he said.