ESA confirms Ariane 6 delay to 2021

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This story was updated July 10 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern to reflect an updated translation of ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander’s remarks at a July 9 press briefing. 

WASHINGTON — Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket won’t launch until the second half of 2021 at the earliest, a delay of at least six months, the European Space Agency confirmed July 9.

“While we know that the maiden flight will not take place before the second semester of 2021, we cannot at this moment precisely quantify the delay, and we cannot provide an exact launch date,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, said according to an ESA translation of remarks at a July 9 press event provided to SpaceNews. The French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, organized the event at ArianeGroup’s headquarters in Paris.

ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said, according to the ESA translation.

Ariane 6 was viewed as very likely to slip from late 2020 into 2021 for a first flight, with much of the reason attributed to slowdowns from the coronavirus pandemic. In May, Neuenschwander said pandemic-induced delays with Ariane 6’s launchpad construction, solid-rocket-booster testing, and productivity losses at Ariane 6 industrial sites had compromised the rocket’s original schedule. 

Neuenschwander, speaking to journalists at the July 9 press event, said problems with the cryogenic arms at the Ariane 6 launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, were also contributing to the delay, according to the French publication Challenges

The French space agency CNES is building the Ariane 6 launch pad. ArianeGroup, a joint venture of Airbus and Safran, is building Ariane 6 as prime contractor to ESA.