Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket debut is scheduled for July 9

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BERLIN (Reuters) -Europe’s new Ariane 6 satellite launcher will perform a long-awaited inaugural flight on July 9, the head of the European Space Agency said at the Berlin Airshow on Wednesday.

The delayed debut comes a year after its predecessor, Ariane 5, was retired, leaving Europe without an independent orbit for its satellites after setbacks with a smaller Italian alternative and the severing of ties with Russia over Ukraine.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher also told reporters that the aim was for the first commercial launch of Ariane 6 to take place before the end of the year.

In November, the 22-nation agency set a tentative launch window of mid-June to the end of July this year, subject to testing.

ESA countries agreed in 2014 to develop Ariane 6 in response to increasing competition in the commercial launch market, but its arrival, originally scheduled for 2020, has been repeatedly postponed.

The launch vehicle was developed by ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran, to better compete with rivals such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

(Reporting by Joanna PlucinskaWriting by Madeline ChambersEditing by Thomas Seythal)

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