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Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket to launch June 15-July 31, 2024

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2023)

Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket will stage an inaugural flight between June 15 and July 31 in 2024, the European Space Agency said on Thursday.

The keenly awaited window for the first test flight came after a test model of the new rocket passed a key long-firing engine test in French Guiana last week, Reuters reported.

ESA nations agreed in 2014 to develop Ariane 6 in response to growing competition in the commercial launch market but its arrival, originally due in 2020, has been repeatedly delayed.

“I am really happy to make this announcement today because it shows that we are on the good track to flight access to space for Europe,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher told a news conference.

The maiden flight will carry some smaller satellites, including two from NASA, but since it is still considered a test flight, it will not carry “a major payload”, ESA added.

The ESA will carry out a few additional tests before the launch to make sure the design is “fault tolerant”.

The ESA said it planned a second flight by the end of 2024 and would ramp up further in 2025 to reach a target of 9-10 flights per year.

The launcher is being developed by ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran, in order to better compete with U.S. private launch provider SpaceX.

Its predecessor, Ariane 5, flew for the last time in July and the smaller Vega C remains grounded following a failure in December last year, leaving Europe without independent access to space. Russia blocked European use of its Soyuz rockets last year in response to Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Last week’s test at the European spaceport in French Guiana involved igniting the core-stage Vulcain 2.1 engine and then running it for seven minutes, which is about the time it would take for the launcher to reach space.

Aschbacher said last month he hoped to be able to announce a launch window for an inaugural flight to be held in 2024, depending on the results of the engine test.

 

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China launch of relay satellite Queqiao-2 for lunar probe mission successful

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(Last Updated On: April 12, 2024)

China National Space Administration (CNSA) said on Friday its launch of a key signal relay satellite was a “complete success” and it would serve as the communication bridge for its future lunar probe missions for years to come, state media reported.

China launched the satellite Queqiao-2, which was named after a mythological bridge made of magpies, and two miniature satellites, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2, on March 20.

Queqiao-2 will be used as a communications bridge between the ground operations on earth and upcoming lunar probe missions on the far side of the moon until at least 2030.

The moon’s near side always faces earth. That means data transfers from the far side are impossible because there is no direct line of sight.

Queqiao-2 researcher and developer Xiong Liang described the satellite as “the main switch” of the whole fourth phase of lunar missions, according to state television CCTV.

“Only when the main switch is flipped on, all the communications can kick off,” Xiong said.

Queqiao-2 will orbit the moon and relay signals to and from the Chang’e-6 mission, which expected to be launched in May. The robotic Chang’e-6 probe will seek to retrieve samples from an ancient basin, acquiring lunar material from the moon’s hidden side for the first time.

Queqiao-2 will also be used as a relay platform for the Chang’e-7 lunar mission in 2026 and the Chang’e-8 mission in 2028.

The functions and performance of Queqiao-2 met mission requirements and it will be able to provide relay communication services for China’s lunar exploration projects and future lunar missions for China and other countries, said the CNSA, according to CCTV.

Queqiao-2 entered its targeted elliptical orbit on April 2 after a correction midway, near-moon braking and orbital manoeuvre around the moon, CNSA said.

The satellite has successfully communicated with Chang’e 4, which was the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the far side of the moon and is still carrying out its exploration mission. It also communicated with the Chang’e-6 probe while it is still on the ground earlier this month.

The successful launch of Queqiao-2 comes after the failed launch of another lunar spacecraft DRO-A/B satellites, which was intended to enter the moon’s distant retrograde orbit (DRO).

China has not released any information on whether or not the satellites can be retrieved.

 

(Reuters)

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Russia aborts planned test launch of new heavy-lift space rocket

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(Last Updated On: April 11, 2024)

Russian space officials on Tuesday aborted the test launch of a new heavy-lift rocket from its far-eastern launch pad.

The Angara-A5 rocket was scheduled to lift off from the Vostochny space launch facility at 0900 GMT Tuesday, but the launch was aborted two minutes before, AP reported.

Yuri Borisov, head of Roscosmos state space corporation, said the automatic safety system canceled the launch after registering a flaw in the oxidizer tank pressurization system.

He said the next launch attempt was set for Wednesday.

Tuesday’s launch was to be the fourth for the Angara-A5, a heavy-lift version of the new Angara family of rockets that has been developed to replace the Soviet-designed Proton rockets.

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China, Thailand sign pacts on outer space, lunar outposts

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(Last Updated On: April 5, 2024)

China and Thailand signed initial pacts on Friday to cooperate on peaceful use of outer space and international lunar research stations, the Chinese space agency said.

The countries aim to form a joint working group on space exploration and applications, encompassing data exchanges and personnel training, according to the memorandums of understanding.

They also agreed to cooperate on plans for appraising, engineering and managing lunar research stations, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement.

In 2023, China selected a space weather monitor developed by Thailand for its Chang’e-7 lunar probe mission, the agency added.

To be launched around 2026, the Chang’e-7 mission will explore resources on the moon’s south pole, looking to sustain long-term human habitation. China aims to land astronauts on the moon by 2030.

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