Ariane 6, the ESA’s new, more flexible launch vehicle, is undergoing the first combined test at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Since a de-risking campaign of the mechanical operations in May 2021, preparations have been underway. Now, the team is confirming the operations and electrical and mechanical equipment required for integration of the upper part of the launch vehicle under conditions representative of a launch campaign.
A major step of this test involves the closure of the Ariane 6 fairing around the payload. The fairing, built by Ruag Space in Switzerland, stands 20 m high and 5.4 m in diameter. It protects payloads from the thermal, acoustic and aerodynamic stresses on the ascent to space.
Over 60 m tall and weighing almost 900 tons with a full payload, Ariane 6 was approved to begin development by the ESA in December 2014 in a bid to maintain Europe’s competitiveness in the commercial launch service market and secure European access to space. The first flight Is scheduled for the second quarter of 2022.
While CNES, France’s space agency, is preparing the launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport, ESA is working with a massive network of more than 600 companies in 13 countries to develop Ariane 6, including 350 small- and medium-sized enterprises, led by prime contractor ArianeGroup.
Ariane 6 will have the flexibility to launch both heavy and light payloads to a wide range of orbits for applications such as Earth observation, telecommunication, meteorology, science, and navigation. Satellites smaller than 200 kg will be able to piggyback on the main payload, providing more cost-effective options for small companies trying to get a foothold in the commercial space industry.
Ariane 6 features a modular design with two versions: Ariane 62, fitted with two strap-on boosters, and Ariane 64, with four. Customers will be able to choose either model based on the payload and orbit required.
The ongoing combined tests at the Spaceport by ESA, CNES, ArianeGroup and other industry partners seek to prove the systems and procedures to prepare the rocket for flight.
Generations of Ariane rockets have been rolling out since 1979, when the first launched from Europe’s Spaceport. Ariane 5, whose major parts were delivered to the port on September 3, will carry the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit on December 18.