Europe's new heavy-lift rocket, Ariane 6, made its inaugural flight from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana at 4pm local time on July 9 (8pm BST).

Ariane 6 takes flight.

The new ESA rocket, the Ariane 6, uses Irish-designed technology – two tech systems are designed and built by space engineering company Réaltra. The firm is dedicated to the design, development and manufacturing of cost-effective space electronic systems using cutting-edge technologies.

Réaltra is translated as 'galaxy' in Irish, and the firm created a video recording and transmission system which will provide live HD images during the mission. Réaltra is the only 100% Irish space electronics company solely dedicated to the space industry. 

The chief commercial officer of Réaltra Space Systems Engineering, which designed and built the onboard camera and satellite navigation systems, said the launch had been "absolutely fantastic".

Daniel Gleeson said it was a "beautiful launch and a wonderful experience" and he said it was a fantastic moment for Réaltra, for Ireland, for Europe and for the Ariane group. I'm absolutely delighted and well done to the team for delivering this". 

'Perfect images'

Gleeson said the six cameras the company designed onboard the rocket could be seen delivering "perfect images".

He described waiting for and watching the launch as "absolutely incredible" and he said he was very much relieved.

"I had slight indigestion to before the flight but now I’m perfect. It was a wonderful, lovely experience. Really, really brilliant." 

Ariane 6 is the latest in Europe's Ariane rocket series, taking over from Ariane 5, and featuring a modular and versatile design that can launch missions from low-Earth orbit and farther out into deep space.

"A completely new rocket is not launched often, and success is far from guaranteed. I am privileged to have witnessed this historic moment when Europe's new generation of the Ariane family lifted off – successfully – effectively reinstating European access to space,” said ESA's Director General Josef Aschbacher.

"An inaugural launch is a huge undertaking from thousands of people who have worked relentlessly for years. To see it perform wonderfully at the first attempt is testament to their dedication and a demonstration of European excellence in engineering and technology. Heartfelt thanks go to the teams at ESA, CNES, ArianeGroup and Arianespace for their hard work to get to this point. I also want to sincerely thank our Member States for having enabled and supported the Ariane 6 programme along the way. Not always easy, but the endurance shown has paid off handsomely today."

Installing first passengers on Ariane 6.

This inaugural flight, designated VA262, is a demonstration flight whose aim is to show the capabilities and prowess of Ariane 6 in escaping Earth's gravity and operating in space. Nevertheless, it had several passengers on board.

At 21:06 BST, 22:06 CEST, one hour after lift-off, the first set of satellites on board Ariane 6 were released from the upper stage and placed into an orbit 600 km above Earth. Satellites and experiments from various space agencies, companies, research institutes, universities and young professionals were included on this inaugural flight.

Ariane 6 from above in the final hours before lift-off.

In addition to the rocket, the lift-off demonstrated the functioning of the launch pad and operations on the ground at Europe's Spaceport. The new custom-built dedicated launch zone was built by France's space agency CNES and allows for a faster turnover of Ariane launches.

Recovered its capacity to access space

Philippe Baptiste, CEO of CNES, said: “With this first successful launch by Ariane 6, Europe has finally recovered its capacity to access space. Beyond the great emotion I am feeling right now, my first thoughts are for all the teams in Kourou, Paris, Vernon, Les Mureaux, Toulouse, Bremen, Lampoldshausen, Liège, Barcelona, Colleferro, Zürich and everywhere else in Europe who made this success possible.

"I would like to acknowledge the commitment of the employees of CNES, ESA, ArianeGroup, Arianespace and our subcontractors. The last few months have been intense, and I would like to thank them all. Europe can be proud of its space programme, Europe can be proud of its knowledge and expertise. Together, let's prepare the future of launchers and space.”

Ariane 6 was built by prime contractor and design authority ArianeGroup. “With the successful first flight of Ariane 6, the European space industry has moved into a new era,” said Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup.

“This historic launch demonstrates the unfailing commitment of our teams and partners, whom I would like to thank warmly for this success, which reflects on the entire European industry.

"Seeing Europe’s new launcher lift off into space marks the culmination of an outstanding technical and technological adventure, and the beginning of a long history of Ariane 6 operations.

"The next flight models are already in production and the stages of the second model will be shipped to the Guiana Space Centre this autumn for the first commercial flight of Ariane 6.”

Next: tech demos, controlled deorbit and capsule separation

Ariane 6 first flight timeline.

With the placement of satellites into orbit, Ariane 6 has demonstrated that it can successfully launch its payloads into space, but ground control has more in store for its inaugural flight.

Novel auxiliary propulsion unit

Over the next hour, Ariane 6's upper stage will show again that it can restart its Vinci engine using the novel auxiliary propulsion unit. This restart capability will allow Ariane 6 to drop off multiple passengers into different orbits on future flights and de-orbit itself through Earth’s atmosphere at the end of its mission, to ensure it does not become space debris.

On this flight the Ariane 6 upper stage is set to release two reentry capsules as it enters Earth's atmosphere for a clean disposal to burn up harmlessly, leaving no space debris in orbit.

Artist's view of the Ariane 6.

The next Ariane 6 is planned for launch this year on its first commercial flight under Arianespace as operator and launch service provider. “The success of this first flight marks the start of Ariane 6’s operational career, giving Europe an autonomous access to space,” added Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace.

“The new launcher’s order book is proof of the versatility of Ariane 6 and of its capacity to accomplish a wide range of missions into multiple orbits. It reflects the confidence that customers have in Ariane 6 for both their institutional and commercial missions. We are eager to begin operating our new launcher.” 

Ireland's national delegate to the European Space Agency also described the launch as "fantastic".

Dr Padraig Doolan said "we are feeling absolutely thrilled" in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

"When the rocket technology engine ignited, it leapt forward into the sky. There was a huge cheer here. Everyone was just thrilled to see the video footage coming through, the separation of the boosters and to see it progressing as it is."

'Over the moon'

"We are over the moon here," he added. 

Dr Doolan, who works with Enterprise Ireland assisting Irish companies to get involved in the space sector, said there was a huge sense of relief with the successful lift-off.

"People forget, space is very hard and getting rockets off the ground safely into orbit is possibly one of the most difficult parts.

"The fact that it worked and worked on schedule and is delivering already, it's a huge relief and a huge cause for celebration for everybody here."

He said the role of Irish companies in the venture was "absolutely massive".

"We're all about bringing in new companies, growing their revenues, getting them into the space supply chain, so it's massive for us absolutely massive that we have Irish companies and Irish technology on board what is really one of Europe's most ambitious projects ever."