While the Ariane 5 launcher has just passed its 100th flight, his successor, Ariane 6 is about to perform his last essays, for a first launch scheduled in mid-2020. Launched in December 2014, the project of the new european rocket speed feed, in favor of a re-use of many technologies of the Ariane 5 and Vega, the small launcher also fired from Kourou.

” We are at a point for all the critical aspects of Ariane 6, including the part of propulsion “, says Stefano Bianchi, responsible for the development of launchers at the european space Agency (ESA). “For the moment, everything is going well, and I’m quite optimistic on the clothing of the calendar if we don’t get into trouble in the last straight line,” explains for his part Jean-Marc Astorg, director of launchers, Centre national d’etudes spatiales (Cnes) of france.

Soon a new test booster

In the interests of cost savings and competitiveness, the most complex part of the launcher, the engine is derived from existing equipment. The main engine Vulcain 2.1 is an evolution of the Vulcain 2 for Ariane 5 : “Her trials are ongoing in Germany since January of 2018, and it goes well,” said Jean-Marc Astorg. The propellant powder P120C (fixed around the fuselage, bottom) are derived from the main engine of Vega, whose version of Vega-C will also benefit of the new models. Ariane 6 will be available in two versions : an Ariane 62, with two P120C (up to 5 tonnes put in geostationary transfer orbit) and Ariane 64 ” heavy-handed “, with four P120C (up to 10.5 t). “The first shooting at the bench took place in July 2018 in French Guiana, we still have two to complete the testing,” explained Jean-Marc Astorg. According to Stefano Bianchi, the second test must take place before the end of 2018.

Finally, the development of the engine, Vinci, designed in 1998, and for the upper floor, ” is going extremely well “, according to the head of the Cnes. Unlike the current engine of the upper stage Ariane 5, Vinci is réallumable and therefore can deliver the satellites, with more flexibility and accuracy. For the new satellites to propulsion all-electric which have a thrust lesser, it is important to be released closer to their orbit. The restart will also allow the top floor to enter the atmosphere and disintegrate immediately, instead of becoming a debris space.

A new shooting range in Kourou

in Addition to the launcher, Europe also needs to build the new shooting range adapted to Ariane 6, at the guiana space centre near Kourou. At the beginning of September 2018, the table of launch of 700 tonnes, manufactured in Germany was installed in its final position. This will end in 2019, and to begin combination trials, the most sensitive : those in the shooting and not from the launcher at the same time. “It will be like a dress rehearsal for the first launch, but we will launch not : we will fire the engine Vulcan without take-off,” explained Jean-Marc Astorg. This will test the data exchange with the bench control, and the facilities fluids and electricity in particular.

” We need to monitor closely the connections edge-ground cryotechniques “, assures the expert in the Cnes. In fact, an important novelty was introduced in the Ariane 6 : the arms that hold the rocket retract just after the start of the take-off, and not just before. “You need to be sure that it works “, he explains : it would be a shame that those arms seem to get stuck and block the flight of the rocket… “We are going to test all cases of possible failures during the trials, then use the results during the entire operating phase,” says Jean-Marc Astorg.

“All the world is waiting for Ariane 6”

The development of Ariane 6 has been carried out within the framework of a european cooperation. After the political discussions, which would necessarily be complicated, ” there has not been a major problem for the work of the engineers “, says Stefano Bianchi.

in the Face of Arianespace, the u.s. private sector shows every day a little more teeth : SpaceX with its rocket reusable, Blue Origin or Orbital Sciences want to recapture the commercial market. They can count on help from Washington, via juicy government contracts that Europeans are struggling to compensate. And the actors are russians, the chinese or the indians are also very dynamic.

“The teams are very motivated : we are all aware of the competition with the other actors, and this creates in the project teams, the Ariane 6, a kind of european solidarity increased, very solid,” explained Jean-Marc Astorg. “While the world waits for Ariane 6 “, concludes Stefano Bianchi, showing that the ESA is also in a hurry to re-energise the european space sector with a launcher which is more competitive and more powerful.