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Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket launches for first time

KOUROU (AFP) – Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket successfully blasted off for the first time on Tuesday, releasing satellites into orbit and restoring the continent’s independent access to space.

European space efforts have suffered a series of blows, including four years of delays to Ariane 6, that have robbed the continent of its own way to launch missions into space for the past year.

But with the successful inaugural flight of Europe’s most powerful rocket yet, European space chiefs were keen to move on from recent setbacks.

“It’s a historic day for Europe,” European Space Agency head Josef Aschbacher said.

“Europe is back,” announced head of France’s CNES space agency Philippe Baptiste.

Surrounded by jungle on the South American coast, the rocket launched from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 4pm local time.

Initially delayed for an hour by a small problem that was noticed in the morning, the rocket lifted off into clear skies.

The mission faced a slight setback as the rocket deviated from its trajectory towards the end of the flight, failing to carry out its planned re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and landing in the Pacific.

But that did not dampen the spirits of European space chiefs, whose objective was to put satellites into orbit.

“It’s a great success despite the slight disappointment” at the end, said head of Germany’s DLR space agency, Walther Pelzer.

The crew in the Jupiter control room, located 17 kilometres (km) from the launch site, portrayed calm at first.

European Space Agency satellite launcher Ariane 6 rocket takes off from its launch pad, at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. PHOTO: AFP