ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher has announced a launch window for the inaugural Ariane 6 flight; targeting between June 15 and July 31, 2024.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has marked the successful completion of a core stage hot-fire test which has paved the way for the much-anticipated first launch of Ariane 6.
On November 30th in a media briefing the ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, announced a launch window for the inaugural Ariane 6 flight. The launch window is scheduled between June 15 and July 31, 2024. A more precise launch date will be determined after qualification reviews in the spring of 2024.
The announcement follows a crucial long-duration test firing of a model of the core stage on November 23 at the Kourou launch pad in French Guiana. The simulation aimed to replicate a full burn by the core stage.
"It became pretty clear right after the test that this was going very well." - Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director Genera
During the test, the core stage's Vulcain 2.1 engine was intended to fire for 470 seconds but shut down after 426 seconds due to a faulty sensor.
Officials clarified that this was a result of "very conservative" test thresholds meant to protect the launch pad and would not have occurred during an actual launch. Toni Tolker-Nielsen, ESA's director of space transportation, emphasized that despite this glitch, all test objectives were achieved.
The core stage test followed a September 1 test of the Ariane 6 upper stage in Germany, confirming its performance in a nominal flight.
"We've got all the hot-fire tests which are needed for the qualification of the maiden flight." - Martin Sion, Chief Executive of ArianeGroup
While additional tests are planned before the first launch, including an upper stage test on December 7 in Germany and a fueling test in Kourou on December 15, preparations for the first launch are underway.
The flight hardware for the first Ariane 6 launch, named FM1, is set to arrive in French Guiana in February, transported by ship from Europe. Final tests, including a wet dress rehearsal, will be conducted on-site.
The inaugural launch will carry several small satellites, providing an opportunity for smaller payloads to enter space. If successful, ESA and Arianespace aim for a second launch before the end of 2024, with plans to carry the CSO-3 reconnaissance satellite for the French military.
Stéphane Israël, Chief Executive of Arianespace, expressed the company's ambition to conduct "as many flights as possible" in 2025, including launches for Amazon's Project Kuiper constellation. The long-term goal is to achieve 9 to 10 Ariane 6 launches per year.