It is the coincidences of the calendar that hurt. On June 13, the boss of the European Space Agency Josef Aschbacher formalized in an interview with the BBC the new delay of Ariane 6: the first flight of the European launcher, until then hoped for the end of 2022, is now scheduled for 2023. The same day, the great Californian rival SpaceX obtained from the American air regulator, the FAA, a first highly anticipated green light for the first orbital flights of its giant Starship/Super Heavy launcher, a nearly 120-meter rocket designed for Mars missions. After an investigation of several months, the FAA still conditioned this authorization to the implementation of 75 environmental protection measures within the launch pad of Boca Chica (Texas) of SpaceX. Commitments that Elon Musk’s group should not have too much trouble keeping.
SpaceX laughing, space Europe crying? The difference in dynamics is indeed striking. Since the start of the year, the Californian champion has fired 26 shots from his Falcon 9 reusable launcher, or one per week. Arianespace had only made one launch, that of a Russian Soyuz in February. A second launch, the first Ariane 5 launch of the year, was scheduled for June 22. This snail’s pace is easily explained: Europe has almost no more launchers to fire. Ariadne 6? It is three years behind its initial schedule. Ariadne 5? At the end of its life, it is no longer produced and its last five launches are sold out. As for the Russian Soyuz launcher, long fired from Guyana, it is no longer available since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.