European launch provider Arianespace announced some exciting news regarding its ambitions for the Moon at the International Astronautical Congress today. Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël revealed onstage that its forthcoming space launch vehicle, the Ariane 6, will aim to deliver the first rideshare mission to the Moon in four years.
”By 2023 we are ready to offer the first rideshare mission to the Moon with Ariane 6 and we are contemplating the first public and private customers for that launch,” he said during a fireside discussion onstage at the event.
This rideshare mission will be able to transport up to 8.5 tons of cargo, and deliver that to direct lunar transfer orbit. Israël said that while currently in Arianespace’s planning scope to transport crew aboard their spacecraft, they could deliver landers and orbiters aboard the Ariane 6, which would set the stage for crew missions to follow — including potentially NASA’s Artemis program.
Ariane 6 is a two-stage medium-heavy lift launch system currently in development by Arianespace, under the direction of the European Space Agency. It’s aiming to have its first test flights next year, which makes the 2023 target for its first lunar orbit mission with paying customer cargo on board ambitious.
If Ariane 6 can make that target, however, it could become a crucial transport mechanism for any long-term attempts to not only ensure we can get crew to the Moon, but establish a working infrastructure and stay there, with humans spending long spans of time there living, working and researching.