Europe's Ariane 6 rocket could launch for the first time in early 2024

A key supplier for the Ariane 6 rocket seems to have ruled out a 2023 launch.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Ariane 6.
An artist's impression of Ariane 6.

ESA / D. Ducros 

We'll likely have to wait a little longer for the launch of Ariane 6.

One of ArianeGroup's key suppliers for its next-generation Ariane 6 rocket appears to have confirmed that we won't see the launch system take flight this year, a report from SpaceNews reveals.

During a May 10 earnings call, executives from German aerospace company OHB predicted that the rocket will perform its long-delayed debut launch in the first months of 2024.

Ariane 6 launch likely delayed to 2024

Ariane 6 is the successor to ArianeGroup's Ariane 5 rocket, which recently launched the European Space Agency's Jupiter JUICE mission.

Last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that it expected the first launch of Ariane 6 — which was once slated for 2020 — to take place in the fourth quarter of 2023. Now, an update on that timeline has come from a third party providing parts for the rocket.

"[Ariane 6 has] not yet launched, but we hope that it will launch in the early part of next year," Marco Fuchs, CEO of OHB, said during a presentation about the company's Q1 financial results. OHB produces tanks and structures for Ariane 6 via a subsidiary called MT Aerospace.

Fuchs also added during the call that he is "getting more and more confident we will see the first launch of Ariane 6 early next year. I think we are within a year of the first launch and that is psychologically very important."

The OHB CEO didn't go as far as stating an exact date, however, saying that it "is not for us to publish."

More recently, amid a scarcity of updates from ArianeGroup and ESA, commentators have increasingly speculated that the launch would be moved back to next year.

During an April 17 interview during the 38th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher declined to comment on Ariane 6's launch date, citing a hot-fire test expected in early July. That test would help to provide a clearer picture, he said.

Fuchs' recent statements are the closest we have so far to a confirmation that Ariane 6 won't fly this year.

Europe's space industry plays catch up

The delays to the launch of Ariane 6 arguably highlight Europe's lagging pace when it comes to innovation in the space industry.

Though Ariane 6 was designed to cut launch costs, it will be an expendable rocket, unlike SpaceX's fully reusable Starship launch system.

In a bid to address this problem, a panel commissioned by the European Space Agency released a report earlier this year warning that Europe is at risk of missing out on the next big tech boom. That is, if it doesn't improve its launch capabilities and channel more funds toward its space industry.

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