Ariane-6: First launch next summer – Le Droit

“It is a good day for space travel in Europe,” said ESA Director Josef Aschbacher at a press conference and announced this date for the first flight of the future European heavy-lift rocket, which was initially planned for 2020. The decision followed the “complete success,” says Mr. Aschbacher, of a critical test on November 23 in Kourou. It consisted of the ignition of the Vulcain 2.1 engine, which powers the main stage of the launch vehicle.

The green light for the first launch is the result of a joint decision by ESA (manager of the program), ArianeGroup (manufacturer of the launch vehicle) and its commercial subsidiary Arianespace, and CNES (National Center for Space Studies). the infrastructure of the Kourou spaceport in Guyana. According to Aschbacher, the final launch date is expected to be announced in March or April 2024. This depends on a general qualification review of the launch vehicle, which is currently underway and is expected to end around April.

The first flight of Ariane 6, which was originally planned for 2020 and was designed to compete with the American Space X launch vehicle, was postponed several times due to the Covid-19 pandemic and development difficulties. As a result, Europe is now deprived of independent access to space since the last flight of the heavy Ariane 5 launch vehicle last July and pending the resumption of the flight of the light launch vehicle Vega-C, not before 2024.

Rise to power

A commercial and, above all, strategic handicap. Because in addition to satellite constellations like those of Amazon, “we also have an institutional market with the European Union and military satellites to launch,” recalls Philippe Baptiste, president of CNES.

For example, there is no question of entrusting a non-European operator with the deployment of the future European constellation of secure communications satellites Iris2 or the French military satellite CSO-3.

By the summer, Ariane 6 will have to undergo two more tests to verify its operation in so-called “degraded” conditions: on December 7th with a test of the Vinci re-ignitable upper stage engine in Germany and on December 15th with a filling test of all Steps and subsequent short engine ignition in Kourou.

The aim of these tests is to “verify whether the reliability and robustness of the design (of the launch vehicle) meets expectations,” explained Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup.

And if the first launch is successful, “the real industrial challenge still needs to be overcome, which is to build from two to nine launchers per year,” Mr. Sion added.

This increase in power is likely to be reinforced by the recent decision by ESA member states to “stabilize Europe’s future in space,” says Josef Aschbacher.

At the Space Summit in Seville at the beginning of November, member states pledged “financial support” to ensure the economic viability and competitiveness of the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets. According to Martin Sion, this support should enable “stabilized operation” of the heavy launch vehicle.

The summit also decided to commit to a new way of working for ESA, leaving its role as program administrator, like that of Ariane 6, to the customers of the manufacturers responsible for its development.