This has been an intense year for Ariane 6 development, with progress boosted across Europe: plants are manufacturing new parts using novel methods, all engines have been tested, and the construction of launch facilities is well underway.
ESA has worked with an industrial network led by prime contractor ArianeGroup, of more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, including 350 small- and medium-sized enterprises, to fine-tune the design and start production. Meanwhile, France’s CNES space agency has been preparing its launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Details on all these activities were recently shared at the 69th International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany – downloadable here (.pdf) – along with two papers submitted to the congress: launch system (.pdf) and launcher system (.pdf), here are the highlights.
Europe's launcher for a new decade
Europe’s new Ariane 6 launcher covers a broad range of commercial and institutional applications while dramatically decreasing the cost of launches compared to Ariane 5.
Enabled by ESA’s Light satellite Low-cost Launch opportunity Initiative, a multiple launch service for small satellites starting mid-2021 will offer cost-effective launch opportunities for satellites of under 400 kg, via a rideshare approach on launchers such as Ariane 6, and its smaller cousin Vega-C.
The Ariane 6’s core stage is powered by Vulcain 2.1, an upgraded engine derived from Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2; its upper stage is powered by the reignitable Vinci engine. Two or four P120C solid-fuel boosters for Ariane 6, common with Vega-C, will be strapped on to provide thrust at liftoff.
The P120C and Vulcain 2.1 development models have started their ground testing, the Vinci is now qualified. This leads to the next significant milestone: the delivery of the Ariane 6 qualification model, to start combined tests in French Guiana at the end of 2019.
The second P120C model will be tested in French Guiana early next year, to verify its design and performance.
The Ariane 6 upper stage will be tested at the DLR German Aerospace Center newly developed P5.2 test facility in Lampoldshausen at the end of 2019.