The European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday that Europe intends to launch the first Ariane 6 rocket, its next-generation space launcher, in the fourth quarter of 2023.The 22-nation agency earlier announced it will push out the first launch from 2022 to 2023 without providing any additional information.
Ariane Group, a partnership between Airbus (AIR.PA) and Safran (SAF.PA), is developing Ariane 6 for the European Space Agency (ESA) in an effort to lower launch costs in the face of increased private competition from SpaceX and to secure Europe’s access to space. The project has experienced a number of setbacks despite being developed for less than 4 billion euros ($3.9 billion) and initially scheduled for an inaugural opening in July 2020.
Arianespace, a part of Ariane Group, which operates the launches, announced it had received a total of 29 orders for Ariane 6 and 7, as well as one for the smaller Vega C, buoyed by a significant order from Amazon for its Project Kuiper constellation earlier this year.
Approximately three-quarters of Ariane 6 launches are anticipated to be from commercial clients, with institutional customers accounting for 60% of Vega C launches, which were developed in Italy. After the situation in the Ukraine prevented Western nations from accessing Russian Soyuz rockets, ESA had started preliminary technical conversations with Elon Musk’s SpaceX that may result in the temporary use of its launchers.
Up to two launches may be outsourced to SpaceX, according to industry sources. The three remaining Ariane 5 rockets will cease operations in the first half of 2019, according to the European agency.