The new Ariane 6, ready to give Europe back its launch autonomy into space

The new Ariane 6, ready to give Europe back its launch autonomy into space
The new Ariane 6, ready to give Europe back its launch autonomy into space

Carmen Rodriguez

Science Editorial, Jul 7 (EFE).- The new Ariane 6 will make its inaugural launch from the spaceport in French Guiana next Tuesday, a rocket that emphasizes versatility and with which Europe wants to recover its independent launch capacity into space.

The rocket is now ready at Europe’s Kourou spaceport and the European Space Agency (ESA), responsible for this first flight, has planned a launch window between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time (6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. GMT).

The inaugural flight will last 2 hours and 51 minutes, from the ignition of the Vulcain 2.1 engine to the maneuver to discard the capsule.

In the event of a delay due to technical or meteorological reasons, you may try again 24 or 48 hours later, depending on whether you have already loaded the fuel.

Getting Ariane 6 to the launch pad has been a ten-year project. ESA gave the green light in 2014 and the first flight was scheduled for July 2020, but it was hit by delays, both due to problems that needed to be resolved and circumstances such as Covid-19.

A project in which 13 European countries have been involved, including Spain with a contribution of 4.7% to the programme; France (55.6%), Germany (20.8%) and Italy (7.7%), as well as some 600 companies from the continent.

Ariane 6 is carrying 17 ‘passengers’, including satellites, deployment devices and experiments, two of them Spanish: the RAMI satellite dispenser, from the Galician company UARX Space, and the 3Cat-4 cubesat (small satellite) from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, which, among other functions, will measure various meteorological and climatic phenomena from space.

In addition, NASA’s CURIE experiment, which will measure radio waves from the Sun and other radio sources in the sky, as well as a smart agriculture satellite and two re-entry capsules into Earth’s atmosphere to test new materials.

Access to space

ESA ‘retired’ Ariane 5 a year ago and the war in Ukraine led Europe, in 2022, to cut its collaboration with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, whose Soyuz launchers it was counting on to cover the time until launch on Ariane 6. In addition, its Vega C rocket has remained on the ground since its first commercial mission failed that same year.

All of this has created a ‘launcher crisis’ at a time when competition in the sector is growing and has forced Europe to launch some of its institutional missions, which could not wait, with the American company SpaceX.

With Ariane 6 Europe regains its independent access to space, a sector that is essential for its applications in daily life and strategic for States, explained Lucía Linares, head of ESA’s space transport and institutional flights strategy, in a recent press presentation.

Its strengths are versatility and adaptability, which allows for cost reduction and a faster response to market developments, which are increasingly active in new satellite constellations compared to geostationary satellites, which are on the decline, he explained.

One rocket, two versions

The new, more modular launcher is available in two versions: Ariane 62, which will be launched on Tuesday and will have two boosters providing the main thrust during takeoff and a height of 56 metres; and Ariane 64, which includes four boosters, is 62 metres high and will begin flying next year.

This will give it the flexibility to launch heavy and light payloads to a wide range of orbits for applications such as Earth observation, telecommunications, meteorology, science and navigation.

Among its major innovations are the upper stage of the rocket with its Vinci engine, which can be restarted up to four times, and the auxiliary power unit (APU) that supports it and, if necessary, helps deploy satellites, explained Matías Fernández Valbuena, head of Ariane 6 structures.

Since it can be ignited up to four times, although it will be ignited three times on the maiden flight, missions with various payloads can be launched and placed in different orbits. In all launches, the last ignition will be used to take the upper stage of the rocket out of orbit.

The goal is for it to burn up on reentry to Earth or to be moved to a graveyard orbit, to avoid generating more space junk. However, Ariane 6 is not a rocket designed so that its first stage can be recovered and reused, as is the case with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

30 missions reserved

This inaugural launch is under the responsibility of ESA, after which Arianespace will be the provider of launch services, for institutional and commercial missions.

There are already 30 missions on the project list. The forecast is for a second flight by the end of the year; four in 2025; eight in 2026 and 10 in 2027.

Arianespace has already signed 18 launches for the deployment of Amazon’s Kuiper satellite internet constellation and will also be used for satellites of the European Galileo positioning system.

Linares recalled that the main objective of the launcher is to guarantee access to space for European institutional missions and their member countries. EFE

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