Announced at the end of May by the European Space Agency (ESA), the delay of the first flight of Ariane 6, which was to take place at the end of 2020, at the Kourou launch site in French Guiana. ESA and the many aerospace companies working on the new launcher have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus health crisis and containment measures. "We now know with certainty that the launch will not take place in 2020," Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of European Space Transport, told to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).
At the dawn of an economic battle between the various players in the launcher market, this announcement is a heavy blow for the European Space Agency, which is counting heavily on this new rocket to get back on track in the face of competition. 2021, or even 2022, would be brought forward for the first flight of Ariane 6, without ESA doesn't give a precise date. Despite the fact that the project is in the final phase of development, partial work in Europe is the main cause of this delay.
In the age of reusable launchers, such as SpaceX and its Falcon 9, which can be reused 5 to 10 times before obsolescence, drastically reducing manufacturing costs and the launch price. Ariane 6 is already technically no longer economically viable in terms of the development and design costs involved. ESA has had to revise its fee schedule to remain competitive. ESA's new launcher is based on a mastered technique with two solid propellant boosters and two liquid hydrogen stages, which has certainly proved its worth, but which may seem obsolete compared with a Falcon 9, forcing the European Space Agency to reduce the prices it offers to potential customers. A range of between $5,600 and $10,600 per kilogram for Ariane 6, compared with $15,000 per kilogram for the SpaceX Falcon 9. Ariane 5, for its part, can charge up to $18,700 for the same type of dedicated satellite mission, compared with the American competition.
Ariane 6 will have its stage 1 and boosters falling back into the Atlantic Ocean, making them unusable after a single launch, since corrosion due to the salinity of the water greatly damages them. To alleviate this problem, ESA and Airbus Defense Group are currently working on the development of a reusable rocket. Two projects are currently under way, named Callisto and Thémis. The aim of these demonstrators is to learn how to master the landing technique for the lower stages of the future Ariane 7.
Elon Musk's company, SpaceX, has taken the leadership of launchers in less than 10 years, bringing its share of technical revolutions and emotions. But the private aerospace company will face fierce competition in the coming years. The Blue Origin company, owned by Jeff Bezos, intends to create havoc in the reusable launcher market with its New Glenn rocket, whose maiden flight is scheduled for 2021.
The revolution of reusable rockets
After its successful liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020 at 7:22 p.m. (UTC) on Launch Pad 39A, the SpaceX Dragon space capsule docked to the International Space Station (ISS) 17 hours later without any problem and with great finesse. The two American astronauts, Douglas G. Hurley and Robert L. Behnken, joined the three other occupants of the ISS, where they were warmly welcomed by their compatriot Christopher Cassidy, and the two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoli Ivanichine and Ivan Wagner. The mission of the Dragon capsule is scheduled to last 110 days, before returning to Earth with the American astronauts on board, during a landing in the Atlantic Ocean, the official date of which has not yet been announced.
This historic inaugural flight brought together millions of people around the world, live on Youtube or broadcast on TV. This feat is a success for SpaceX, offering the USA the possibility to access Space again from its ground, since the withdrawal of the Space Shuttle in July 2011.
Review or discover the images of the launch and docking at the ISS, in videos :
1:03:08 Bob and Doug saying Goodbye to their families
1:20:10 Tesla's arriving at the Launch Pad
1:36:15 Bob and Doug entering Dragon
4:22:35 Countdown Start
4:30:00 Entry Burn
4:31:40 Landing Burn
4:32:15 First Stage on Droneship
4:34:55 Dragon Deployment
6:34:08 - 5 Meters Approach
6:34:52 - 1 Meter Approach
9:20:34 - Hatch Opening
9:41:02 - Entering the ISS
William Mahe (WM), books and news author, passionate about the Universe, Science and technologies, university graduate from the Paris - Meudon Observatory in Astronomy and Celestial Mechanic. President of the SPETspace STEAM Society and Publishing Director of the SPETspace News. He is also a Harley Davidson and Honda motorcycles lover.