European rocket Ariane 6 to make inaugural flight on Tuesday

Europe's newest rocket, Ariane 6, will make its maiden flight on Tuesday. Ariane 6 will be launched from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, between 8pm and midnight Belgian time. The unmanned flight will carry satellites and scientific research equipment.

It will be the first time in almost a year that Europe has launched a rocket. Ariane 6's predecessor, Ariane 5, was retired in July last year. Its launch has already been delayed by four years. Ariane 6 has also cost €4.5 billion to develop.

The first flight of Ariane 6 is crucial because SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rocket is the only viable alternative for launching large satellites into space. "It is absolutely necessary for Europe to have independent access to space," said ESA chief Josef Aschbacher.

"It is absolutely necessary for Europe to have independent access to space"

Its first commercial flight is scheduled for later this year, and it already has 30 launch orders. But competing with SpaceX will be difficult because Ariane 6 is not reusable, making launches more expensive and difficult. Ariane 6 is planned to carry out nine launches a year. By comparison, SpaceX had 14 launches in May alone.

That Ariane 6 faces an uphill battle was made clear in early July, when the European satellite organisation EUMETSAT decided to book a launch order for its newest sattelite with SpaceX rather than Ariane 6. Aschbacher called the decision "surprising", adding that "now is the time for Europe to support autonomous access to space".

Belgian technology

Belgium is one of the European countries that has supported the rocket the most. The country has invested 222 million euros in its development, representing 3.8 percent of the total development costs. Belgium ranks fifth out of 13 European countries contributing financially to Ariane 6.

Belgian aerospace companies are heavily involved in the Ariane 6 project. For example, more than 90 employees of SABCA are working on the Ariane 6 programme, supplying parts for the engine. Safran Aero Boosters supplies precision valves for the engine and Sonaca builds metal structures for the launch pad.

Even Belgian students have contributed to the mission. A group of 26 students from UHasselt developed OSCAR-QUBE+, a device that maps the magnetic field around the Earth.



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