Ar­i­ane – Europe's launcher

The Ariane programme

In order to provide Europe with independent access to space, several European states decided in 1973 to begin the Ariane programme. This has been one of the most successful European technology programmes, and Germany was an important participant from the very beginning. Space transportation continues to play a central role within the scope of both the European and German space strategies. The overarching goal is to provide a reliable, flexible and competitive European launch system. The Ariane programme fulfils this objective and provides a powerful launcher in the form of Ariane 5. The solution for smaller payloads is the Vega launcher, which, like Ariane, lifts off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

Ariane 5 – one of the most reliable launchers in the world

Ariane 5 has one of the best records of all regularly operated launchers worldwide. In service since 1996, Ariane 5 is designed to transport heavy payloads, weighing up to 11 tonnes, into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) using a dual-launch system. The European launcher has gained a considerable market share in this segment of launch services for telecommunications satellites – it has not only carried more than 100 satellites and spacecraft into space, but also launched the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) freighters on their way to the International Space Station ISS. One of the most prestigious space missions of all time, the NASA, ESA and CSA James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, flew on an Ariane 5 at the end of 2021.

The Ariane 6 programme – ensuring Europe’s independent access to space

The Member States decided to develop the new Ariane 6 launch system Suring the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level held in December 2014. This decision represented an important milestone. For the Ariane launch system to remain successful in international competition over the long term, it must not only be further developed technically, but also be operated economically. A prerequisite for achieving these goals was a restructuring of the European launcher sector; responsibilities, costs and risks will in future be shared between ESA and the European space industry. The launch costs should therefore be substantially reduced compared to Ariane 5.

This cost reduction and the modernisation of the proven Ariane system are important advantages during the current rapid changes in the commercial launcher market, which new participants are increasingly entering. For Ariane 6, many components draw on the experience and technologies of Ariane 5. The designers have combined existing components that have proven reliable with new elements. The first flight of the approximately 60-metre-tall Ariane 6 launcher is planned for the end of 2023.

The new Ariane 6 uses the propellant combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in both the main and upper stages. The new main stage is technologically based on the ‘old’ main stage of Ariane 5 but is designed to be cost-optimised. The upper stage is a modification of the new upper stage already planned for Ariane 5 ME, with the re-ignitable Vinci engine. Depending on the configuration, Ariane 6 can carry a payload of four-and-a-half or 12 tonnes to GTO; for this it is equipped with either two or four solid-propellant boosters. It is constructed by the European space company ArianeGroup.




Anja Kaboth

Corporate Communications Lampoldshausen
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Im Langen Grund, 74239 Hardthausen
Tel: +49 6298 28-201

Denis Regenbrecht

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
German Space Agency at DLR
Königswinterer Straße 522-524, 53227 Bonn