European Ariane 6 rocket suffers glitch during first launch

The first launch of Europe’s next-generation rocket took a long time to plan, and almost went off without a hitch until a second-stage glitch caused the Ariane 6 rocket to fail to launch, ruining its debut.

An Ariane 6 rocket lifted off Tuesday at 3 p.m. EST, after nearly four years of delays and technical problems. The rocket performed a flawless launch from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana, successfully separating the stage and igniting the Vinci upper stage engine in orbit for the first time. About three hours after launch, the European Space Agency sent a Vinci rocket into orbit. Advertise There was an “unexpected outcome” on the rocket’s maiden flight, which could affect the end of the mission.

The upper stage of the Ariane 6 rocket failed to raise its altitude due to a failure of the auxiliary propulsion unit (APU), which is used to repressurize the tanks and allow the engine to fire up to four times, according to Online Space PolicyAs a result, the rocket engine failed to re-ignite for a third time, preventing the Ariane 6 upper stage from performing the deorbit burn. The rocket was supposed to fall back toward Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean to prevent it from jamming Earth’s orbit. But because of this anomaly, the second stage is still in orbit.

On its first launch, Ariane 6 carried a handful of small satellites and technology demonstrations. The rocket managed to perform three payload deployments, but failed to deploy two of its payloads later in the flight. The remaining payloads were small reentry capsules that failed to perform their own burn to de-orbit them due to a rocket anomaly.

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The 197-foot (60-meter) tall rocket, developed by French company Arianespace, is intended to serve as a successor to the now-retired Ariane 5. The legendary rocket made its final flight in July 2023, ending a 27-year career. After its retirement, Europe was left without its own rocket to reach orbit. After severing ties with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine and subsequently losing access to Soyuz rockets, the European market was eagerly awaiting the Ariane 6 to restore its launch capabilities and join the new space race.

The Ariane 6 was originally scheduled to launch in 2020, but was later pushed back to late 2022, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and additional technical hurdles in the rocket’s development. The rocket has a backlog of 30 missions, most of which will be to deliver Amazon’s Project Kuiper internet satellites into orbit.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel assured reporters that the anomaly would not affect future launches of the rocket. “We are on track now for the second launch this year,” Israel was quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph. European space flights“It has no effect on future releases.”

Considering how long it took for this missile to finally launch, we’re not entirely convinced by this statement, although it sounds reassuring.

After its first launch, engineers will collect data from the failed Ariane 6 launch to analyze and dig deeper into what might have caused the anomaly. “That’s why we were very clear from the beginning that there were two aspects,” Ariane Group CEO Martin Sion said during the press conference, according to European Spaceflight. “The first was to prove the launch was successful, which we did. And then to understand and collect as much information as possible in this zero-gravity phase.”

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