The much-anticipated maiden flight of Europe's new rocket Ariane 6 will take place in the middle of next year. This was announced by the Director General of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, following a successful test of the core stage engine of Ariane 6.

 In an exclusive interview with RFI, Josef Aschbacher spoke on a variety of subjects, starting with the launch period of the maiden flight of Ariane 6. 

"We have a launch date or a launch period, 15th of June to 31st of July next year. And yes, we are on a good way getting Ariane 6 on the launch pad."

How important was this test? 

"The test was extremely important, the one of the 23rd of November. It was the so-called long-duration hot firing test, which simulated a full flight of the rocket. Of course, we tested the first stage, the Vulcan 2.1 engine. It was extremely important because this really is the test where we go through the various scenarios and the various steps of a flight. It was really good in terms of results that we got and it confirmed that the engine is performing nominal, that means well, and yes, we are very confident that this test was an important milestone which allowed us, therefore, to predict a future launch date for Ariane 6" 

What's the status of the Vega-C launcher? 

"Vega-C we have just got through the inquiry board results, we have a similar task for this for Ariane 6 to bring it back to the launch pad, return to flight as we call it. And we expect the return to flight to be before the end of next year."

It's been a very encouraging month for the European Space Agency and the space partners in Europe. First, the European Space Summit in Seville and now the successful test of the core stage engine of Ariane 6. Can you tell us more about this summit and how has this summit and the successful test on November 23rd boosted your prospects as far as access to space is concerned?

 "For access to space, I said it myself very clearly, we have been in a launcher crisis based on one side due to the fact that Soyuz was dropping out as a launch opportunity because of the invasion of Russia and Ukraine. On the other side, Ariane 5 had its last flight this year and we did not yet have Ariane 6 on the launch pad and incidentally also at the same time Vega-C was dropping out. So yes, this is not only a very uncomfortable situation for Europe, its own launcher ready. We had a crisis and this crisis really caused a list of major actions which I initiated as Director General of ESA but of course with our partners in the launcher sector with ARREN Group, CNES and ARREN SPAS and together and really underlined together we have managed now to set the necessary steps to get out of the crisis. We are out of the crisis when we launch, therefore it's too early to call victory. We have, of course, yet to deliver, but I think we are on a very good path now to get out of this crisis. And I really have to say that this is the effort of, it's a major effort politically, technically, programmatically of all these partners involved. And I'm happy to say that ESA is in the midst of it. We are leading many of these activities, and therefore I'm also happy to say that the teams which are working in my organization, ESA, have been extremely good in order to help us together, as I say, with industry, Arianz Group, Arianz PAS, but also CNES as a very strong partner in the launcher segment. Of course, they are responsible for the ground segment, but also as a very strong member state has been very instrumental. And I really would like to mention all the member states of ESA have been making these decisions. The Seville Summit made the decisions. Now we were talking about getting RN6 on the launch pad. Of course, Seville was looking into the medium term. That means we have guaranteed now that we have launches from FM16 onwards. 16th flight up to the end of this decade and possibly not only possibly but also early into the next decade both for Ariane 6 and Vega-C. And this guarantee has been given by the ESA member states that we do have launches throughout the decade. And that's very fundamental. Of course, without launches, we would not be able to launch all the satellites required for Earth observation, telecom, navigation, space science, and all the applications we have either for ESA or for the European Union or for member states or commercially also for international partners. So this was really fundamental. In addition, the paradigm shift of Civilia was that we already prepared today based on lessons learned the next launcher after Ariane 6 and Vega C, which will be a new class of launchers but developed through a competitive process. A little bit what happened in the U.S. through the COTS program, out of which, as we all know, SpaceX developed as a very successful service provider for launchers. And in Europe, we're going a very similar way. So we will have competition driving the future development of launchers. And I'm very excited to see this happening because this paradigm shift is necessary and should result at the end in lower costs for the public sector because through this competitive process we know that in the US they have reduced the cost by a factor of two roughly and this is something that I'm really looking forward to. On one side we have guaranteed the presence that means Ariane 6 coming to the launch pad, the near-term future exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C and the long-term future future with a new generation of launchers to be developed. I think we are, yes it's fair to say that what used to be called a crisis in Europe, a launcher crisis, I think we are on the best way out of this crisis now in the next months a launcher crisis, I think we are on the best way out of this crisis now in the next months and years to come."

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