European Ariane 6 rocket experiences anomaly during first launch

The first launch of Europe’s next generation of rockets has been long overdue and went almost smoothly until a fault in the second stage caused the Ariane 6 launch to fail, spoiling the launch.

Ariane 6 lifted off Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET after nearly four years of delays and technical problems. The rocket completed a flawless launch from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, performing stage separation and ignition of the Vinci engine in orbit for the first time. About three hours after launch, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that there was an “unexpected outcome” with the rocket’s maiden flight that would impact the end of the mission.

The Ariane 6 upper stage failed to increase its altitude due to a failure of an auxiliary propulsion unit (APU), which is used to repressurize the tanks and fire the engine up to four times, according to As a result, the rocket’s engine failed to reignite a third time, preventing the Ariane 6 upper stage from performing a deorbit burn. The rocket would have had to fall back to Earth and land in the Pacific Ocean to avoid disrupting Earth’s orbit. However, the anomaly means the second stage is still in orbit.

For its debut launch, Ariane 6 carried a few small satellites and engineering demos. The rocket was capable of ejecting three payloads, but failed to eject two of its payloads later in the flight. The remaining payloads were small reentry capsules that were unable to perform their own deorbit burn due to the rocket anomaly.

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

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 obstacles encountered during the rocket’s development. The rocket has built up a backlog of 30 missions, the majority of which will involve delivering 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 the rocket’s upcoming launches. “We are now perfectly on track to do the second launch this year,” Israel is quoted as saying in European Spaceflight. “It has no consequences for the following launches.”

Considering how long it took for this rocket to finally launch, we’re not entirely convinced by that claim, as reassuring as it sounds.

After the first launch, engineers will collect data from the Ariane 6 launch failure for analysis and to dig deeper into what may have caused the anomaly. “That’s why we were very clear from the beginning that there were two aspects,” ArianeGroup CEO Martin Sion said during the press conference, according to European Spaceflight. “One was to demonstrate the success of the launcher, which we did. And then to understand and collect as much information as possible in this microgravity phase.”

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