July 16, 2024
Wind-powered cargo ship takes Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket to launch site

After numerous setbacks, the European Space Agency recently announced that its next-generation rocket, Ariane 6, is set to launch in just six months’ time. If successful, the heavy-lift launcher will restore the continent’s independent access to space satellites.

Now, various parts of the rocket, built in factories across Europe, need to be transported across the Atlantic Ocean to be assembled at ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana. This oversea territory is — for now — home to Europe’s only active spaceport.

To tackle the task, ArianeGroup, which is behind the rocket, commissioned the construction of a custom-built vessel called Canopée. The company claims it is the world’s first hybrid industrial cargo ship powered by wind. 

Six years in the making, the vessel has four massive “Oceanwings” that assist the diesel engines when in motion, cutting fuel consumption by around 30%. 

The invention of French startup AYRO, these fully retractable sails stretch 37 metres high and 11 metres wide. They automatically adjust based on wind conditions, maximising thrust. 

Made from a cloth-like material, the wings have undergone extensive testing over the past two years. But the sails were really put through their paces in November when Canopée completed its first transatlantic voyage carrying parts of the Ariane 6 rocket.  

An image of the Ariane 6 hot fire test