CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The European Space Agency and its partners have announced a July 9 launch date for the first Ariane 6 rocket.

ESA revealed the date for the launch at the ILA Berlin air show June 5 after announcing last month that the launch would take place some time in the first two weeks of July. ESA did not disclose a specific launch time or window for the launch that day.

“The announcement of the scheduled date for Ariane 6’s first flight puts us on the home stretch of the launch campaign and we are fully engaged in completing the very last steps,” Martin Sion, chief executive of ArianeGroup, the prime contractor for the rocket, said in a statement.

Those very last steps include a fueling test and practice countdown known as a wet dress rehearsal (WDR). ESA said last month that the WDR would take place June 18 and did not update that schedule in the announcement of the launch date.

The inaugural Ariane 6 launch is primarily a demonstration flight. It is carrying eight cubesats from companies and organizations and five payloads that will remain attached to the rocket’s upper stage. It also will deploy two reentry capsules, one developed by ArianeGroup and the other by The Exploration Company, a European startup that recently won an ESA award to establish a commercial cargo spacecraft.

The most important part of the launch is the rocket itself. Ariane 6, years behind schedule, is critical to Europe’s efforts to end a “launcher crisis” that has temporarily deprived it of independent access to space. That crisis was caused by delays in the Ariane 6 and retirement of the Ariane 5, as well as loss of the Soyuz rocket after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and a Vega C launch failure in late 2022.

“Ariane 6 marks a new era of autonomous, versatile European space travel,” Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, said in a statement. “This powerful rocket is the culmination of many years of dedication and ingenuity from thousands across Europe and, as it launches, it will re-establish Europe’s independent access to space.”

In a May 28 interview, Aschbacher said that a qualification review found a number of unspecified issues with the launch system that needed to be closed before the launch. “There is nothing that is a showstopper,” he said, adding he was not concerned about making what was then a two-week window in July for the launch.

If the inaugural launch is successful, a second launch would take place before the end of the year, said Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, in the statement, “followed by a steady rise to around 10 launches a year once we reach cruising speed.” By contrast, SpaceX performed 14 launches of its Falcon 9 rocket in the month of May 2024 alone.

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...