WASHINGTON — Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket won’t launch until the second half of 2021, a delay of at least six months if not more, the European Space Agency confirmed July 9.
“We know that the maiden flight will take place in the second semester of 2021,” Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, told SpaceNews in an emailed statement.
Ariane 6 was viewed as very likely to slip from late 2020 into 2021 for a first flight, with much of the reason attributed to slowdowns from the coronavirus pandemic. In May, Neuenschwander said pandemic-induced delays with Ariane 6’s launchpad construction, solid rocket booster testing, and productivity losses at Ariane 6 industrial sites had compromised the rocket’s original schedule.
In his July 9 statement, Neuenschwander said ESA is unable to fully quantify the extent of the delays. “We cannot provide an exact launch date,” he said. ESA hopes to have greater clarity on the delays in a few months, he said.
Neuenschwander, speaking to journalists in Europe at a July 9 event by the French Association of Professional Journalists in Aeronautics, said problems with the cryogenic arms at the Ariane 6 launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, were also contributing to the delay, according to the French publication Challenges.
The French space agency CNES is building the Ariane 6 launch pad. ArianeGroup, a joint venture of Airbus and Safran, is building Ariane 6 as prime contractor to ESA.