The central core for the Ariane 6 rocket has arrived at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Tuesday.
This is the first time the rocket’s parts have come together on the launch pad, enabling the team to conduct combined tests that will mimic a real launch campaign. The first flight is planned for the second quarter of 2022.
The central core, which comprises a lower stage and an upper stage, traveled by boat to Pariacabo harbour from Europe in two containers carrying each component. They were then driven to the Ariane 6 launch vehicle assembly building at the Spaceport, where they will be unpacked and installed on the assembly line machinery for integration.
Once fully assembled on the launch pad, Ariane 6 will stand over 196 feet tall and weigh almost 900 tons with a full payload. Designed to launch satellites to a diversity of orbits, it is ESA’s attempt to maintain European competitiveness in the commercial launch services market. This year’s test flight will mark the culmination of over seven years of work from hundreds of industry partners.
“To have Ariane 6 at Europe’s Spaceport is tremendously exciting,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation. “This is a major milestone, the culmination of intense preparation by ESA and partners in Europe and at Europe’s Spaceport, and an important step towards proving Ariane 6 is ready for flight.”
After the central core is integrated, it will roll out to the launch pad and be raised vertically. The mobile gantry which will enclose it contains moveable platforms so that engineers can access the whole rocket for final integration.
Next, engineers will strap four mock-up solid rocket boosters to the lower stage, allowing them to practise the procedures and test the equipment as if they were the real boosters. In a hot firing test, the Ariane 6’s lower stage Vulcain 2.1 engine will be ignited several times without the rocket actually lifting off.
Meanwhile, an Ariane 6 upper stage is also being prepared for hot-fire tests at the DLr German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen, Germany. Tests inside a special facility will mimic the conditions of space.