Ariane 6 is comparable to the SpaceX Falcon 9 in its payload ratings to orbit so it's tempting to call it Europe's version of the F9, but the payload similarity seems to be all. The European Space Agency (ESA) pretty much ridiculed the idea of reusability when the Ariane 6 program was starting and insulted SpaceX at every chance, so it won't be reusable.
Asked about how the Ariane 5 compares to lower-cost alternatives on the market today, such as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, Stefano Bianchi, Head of ESA Launchers Development Department, responded with a question of his own. “Are you buying a Mercedes because it is cheap?”
Ranzo, sitting nearby, chimed in and referenced the India-based maker of the world’s least expensive car. As he put it, “We don’t sell a Tata.”
At another point they said SpaceX sells "bullshit" to commercial customers. At still another they said, "What would the engine and booster factories sprinkled across Europe do if they built one rocket and then had 11 months off? The member states value the jobs too much."
This was before they announced they were working on a demonstrator of booster recovery technologies. Which I've never heard more news about.
Returning to the point, during an interview this past Monday, June 13th, European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher said the rocket would not fly until sometime in 2023. It was originally slated to launch in 2020.
As usual, the big contractor working on the big rocket doesn't
attribute the delay to any one thing in particular. They mentioned an
issue with the "cryogenic connection system" had been a critical item
requiring a lot of focus for development efforts and a driver of delays.
was recently completed, with the cryogenic system demonstrating a successful release at the correct
moment. They also mentioned a common issue (some of which Artemis/SLS is
testing over the course of the next couple of days) of getting ground systems
and flight software to talk with each other properly. Delays have a way of snowballing.
Due to development issues, other critical tests have been long-delayed as well, such as a hot-fire test of the rocket's second stage, which features a single Vinci engine. The official said he expected the second stage test to occur soon at Lampoldshausen, Germany.
Compounding all of this is that the ESA has said the 20-year service Ariane 5 is approaching end of life, which would have led to moving the demand from the older rocket to the newer Ariane 6. Then they had a large surge in demand for launches on the new vehicle.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February led the European Space Agency to sever ties with the Russian space program for its use of the Soyuz rocket. This meant that European institutional payloads, such as the Galileo and Copernicus satellites, had to find other rides to space. (Europe's current mainstay rocket, the Ariane 5, has just five more flights left before it is retired in favor of the Ariane 6.) Instead of flying on the Russian-built Soyuz, most of these payloads are now waiting for the Ariane 6 to come online.
The second change was a blockbuster commercial order from Amazon, which purchased 18 flights of the Ariane 6 in its more powerful "64" version, with four solid-rocket boosters. Amazon needs to launch the majority of its Project Kuiper satellite Internet constellation in the next five years, so its commercial order likely has a limited lifespan — which probably can be rescinded if the Ariane 6 cannot fly frequently enough.
While nobody has officially said when the target date for the first Ariane 6 launch will be, Ars Technica reports "sources say" the working date is no earlier than April 2023.
First hot firing test of the solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 in their French Guiana test facility. ESA/CNES photo.