ESA’s Ariane 6 launch vehicle development on track

Stephen Kuper

Europe’s Ariane 6 launch vehicle is set to debut with a commercial mission in 2020 – industry is carrying out the final tests and starting production. The Ariane 6 launch zone at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is near completion.

Ariane 6’s core stage is powered by the Vulcain 2.1 engine, its upper stage is powered by the reignitable Vinci engine. Strapped onto the core stage will be two or four P120C solid-fuel boosters, a technology shared with Vega-C, to provide thrust at lift-off.

Ariane 6 has moved to the final stage of development where tests qualify the designs that will guide production. At DLR Institute of Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen, Germany, hot-firing tests of the Vulcain 2.1 engine are close to completion. Vinci engine hot firing tests have finished successfully.

A team of experts will examine the results of these tests and once these reviews are successful, these two engines will be qualified for flight. A new test facility, the P5.2, at the same DLR site was inaugurated in February and will enable testing of the complete Ariane 6 upper stage.

This upper stage will come from ArianeGroup in Bremen, Germany who is currently focusing on engine integration, final operations and testing. MT Aerospace, also in Bremen, is supplying the fuel tanks.

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An ArianeGroup facility in Les Mureaux, France, hosts the largest friction stir welding machines in Europe for producing the Ariane 6 cryogenic tanks for Ariane 6’s core stage. The aft bay, which secures the Vulcain 2.1 engine to the core stage is in production and being integrated at the same location.

The first qualification model of the P120C strap-on booster configured for Vega-C was static fired in January on the test bench at Europe’s Spaceport.

 

The second qualification model, configured for Ariane 6, will be tested at the beginning of next year. The 11.5-metre-long and 3.4-metre diameter insulated P120C motor case is made of carbon composite built in one piece by Avio in Colleferro, Italy.

At ArianeGroup in Issac and Le-Haillan, France, new fully robotic production lines have the capability of increasing production by 30 per cent to assemble the rear skirts and build nozzles for the P120C strap-on solid rocket motors. MT Aerospace in Augsburg, Germany, is supplying the rear skirts.

The Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s Spaceport is on track and near completion. The main structures include the Launch Vehicle Assembly Building, the mobile gantry and launch pad.

The launch vehicle assembly building, used for horizontal integration and preparation of Ariane 6 stages before rollout to the launch pad, is complete and tools are now being installed.

The 90-metre-tall metal frame of the mobile gantry is fully constructed and in February cladding started. The mobile gantry houses Ariane 6 until it is retracted before launch. The first rolling test of this 8,200-tonne structure will be performed later in the year.

The launch pad flame deflectors were installed at the end of April. They will funnel the fiery plumes of Ariane 6 at lift-off into the exhaust tunnels buried deep under the launch table. The nearby water tower has also been installed.

The first four levels of the mast have been mounted and welded and in February the integration started of the fluidic lines that will interface with the launch vehicle. The LH2 and the LOX plants that produce and store the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen needed to fuel the launcher’s engines are complete.

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