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Countdown on for the first flight of “Ariane 6”

Photo: Jody Amiet Agence France-Presse The European Space Agency (ESA) “Ariane 6” rocket before its first launch at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on July 9, 2024.

Mathieu Rabechault – Agence France-Presse to Kourou

Published at 11:01 a.m. Updated at 11:41 a.m.

  • Europe

The final countdown has begun: with a four-year delay, the Ariane 6 rocket is due to lift off for the first time on Tuesday above the Guyanese jungle, carrying with it Europe's hopes of regaining autonomous access to space.

The launch is ultimately not scheduled before 4 p.m. (3 p.m. in Quebec) instead of 3 p.m., due to a minor problem with ground installations, which has been resolved, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported on X.

At the first light of day at the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in Kourou, the mobile gantry, a vast 90 meter high cathedral which houses the rocket, was slowly removed under a fine rain, revealing the 56 meter rocket, observed an AFP journalist.

A new weather update gave the “GO for filling” at 10 a.m., the ESA announced on X. The operation, lasting an hour and a half, consists of filling the rocket's tanks with cryogenic propellants – the liquid oxygen and hydrogen which power the Vulcain engine.

Any anomaly requiring physical intervention would henceforth require emptying the tanks, automatically leading to a postponement of the firing for 48 hours, according to Jean-Michel Rizzi, head of the launch base Ariane 6 for ESA.

Locked in the launch center bunker, a sort of rocket cockpit, more than 200 experts examine the launcher until it leaves the ground, ready to interrupt the countdown and resolve any problems, a- he said.

The launch center is in constant contact with the Jupiter room, the control tower where all the telemetry data is centralized (the data sent to each instant by the rocket), radar tracking or communications information as well as liaison with the armed forces deployed in large numbers to ensure the safety of the launch.

Three aircraft combat Rafale were deployed in particular to deter any aircraft that were too curious.

“A share of risk”

Decided in 2014, Ariane 6 will also be able to place satellites in geostationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers — like its predecessor < i>Ariane 5 — than putting constellations into orbit a few hundred kilometers from Earth.

The rocket was “qualified” on the ground after multiple rehearsals. “We've done so many [launch] timelines that we say to ourselves that it's routine, except that this time, it's the real one, it's going to take off,” enthuses Franck Saingou, deputy director of the inaugural flight .

Historically, almost half of the first rocket launches have been failures, such as in 1996 for the first Ariane 5< /i>, which however only experienced two failures in 117 shots.

“It’s a first flight, there is an element of risk, we tried to reduce it as much as possible, we are confident,” said Philippe Baptiste, the CEO. of CNES, the French space agency.

“We will be able to breathe a first sigh of relief when we have released the first satellites”, an hour and six minutes after takeoff, calculates Tony Dos Santos, head of mission at ESA.

The success will be total with the successful fall into the Pacific of the upper stage at the end of the mission, following a third restart of the Vinci engine, the rocket's main innovation.

The success of the flight will mark Europe's “return” to the space scene, according to the head of space transport at ESA, Toni Tolker-Nielsen.< /p>

Since the last flight of Ariane 5 a year ago, the Europeans can no longer put into orbit by themselves a satellite: since the invasion of Ukraine, they no longer have access to the Russian Soyuz medium launcher, and the Vega-C rocket is nailed on the ground since the end of 2022, after an accident.

But then, according to him, it will be necessary to successfully ramp up the flights, with another at the end of the year, six planned for 2025 and eight the following year.

For its first flight, Ariane 6 will carry 17 “passengers” on board: 11 university microsatellites, various experiments as well as two atmospheric re-entry capsules, which must prepare the space cargo ship wanted by the Europeans to supply the space stations.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116