The 3.8 billion dollar rocket to achieve space independence

The 3.8 billion dollar rocket to achieve space independence
The 3.8 billion dollar rocket to achieve space independence

The Ariane 6 rocket makes history. The The inaugural takeoff took place at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday The launch took place at 10:00 a.m. CST from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana) and was a complete success. The European Space Agency (ESA) was in charge of this first mission, monitoring the entire launch process and verifying that it complied with the published flight profile.

For this first mission, ESA has opted for the less powerful version of the launcher —called A62— which has two solid-fuel boosters placed on either side of the primary central stage. The thrust of all the engines involved in the takeoff has been optimal, as has the sequence of ignition and uncoupling of the different stages involved.

With this success, Europe regains its technological independence to place all types of payloads into orbit after the withdrawal of Ariane 5 in July last year. “Having this door of independence to other technologies is fundamental to the opportunities of our industries and our development“, Matías F. Valbuena, head of Ariane 6 structures at ESA, told EL ESPAÑOL – Omicrono.

Search for independence

“Space has become an essential part of Europeans’ daily lives through our phones, communications, television, the internet, information on the environment or natural disasters,” he said. “With this maiden flight and together with the Vega launcher, the little brother, ESA ensures Europe’s independent access to space“.

The Ariane 6 was first considered in 2014 as a direct replacement for the Ariane 5 and with the aim of giving continuity to the European space programme. Total development budget amounts to 3.8 billion euros after adding some extra items due to different cost overruns that occurred during the process.

Similarly, the initial plan set a very tight schedule with the inaugural flight in 2021 or 2022 at the latest, with the focus on not losing the ability to launch loads at any time into space. This ultimately did not happen and the European Space Agency itself had to turn to SpaceX as a launch provider.

“More than problems in development, We could say that there was a certain optimism when setting the deadlines. “Because, although Ariane 5 systems were used and elements were shared with Vega, there were technical difficulties in introducing the new technologies,” said F. Valbuena.

For example, in the development of the control system for test benches, optical separation systems or the software flight. The expert also indicates that “There has been no launch system developed in Europe for 26 years”with all that this implies in the field of experience and at the level of industrial organization.

The new European rocket

He Ariane 6 is designed to cover the segment of large satellites for their placement into orbit. “The A62 configuration has a capacity of up to 4.5 tonnes for a geostationary transfer orbit and the A64 version, with 4 lateral thrusters, reaches up to 11.7 tonnes,” said F. Valbuena.

Ariane 6 on the launch pad


The rocket It consists of three main sections: the propellants —also called boosters—, the lower main stage and the upper stage. The former are placed on the sides of the main stage and have provided thrust in the early stages of takeoff. They are exactly the same model as the P120C engines also found on the Vega-C rocket.

The main stage, for its part, is powered by the Vulcan 2.1 liquid-fuel engine, it is a Improved version based on the main engine of the Ariane 5 which gave such good results during its period of service. The upper one is led by the aforementioned Vinci engine and uses liquid oxygen and hydrogen just like the Vulcan 2.1.

The engineers involved in the development of the rocket they have created There are two versions of the fairing to adapt to the needs of the mission. In this first case, the smallest one, 14 metres long, has been chosen. There is another larger one, 20 metres high and 5.4 metres in diameter, both made of a carbon fibre reinforced polymer.

As for specifications, The total height of the Ariane 6 on the first flight is 56 metresalthough it can reach 62 when the chosen fairing is the largest of those available, with a constant diameter of 5.4 meters throughout the central stage. The 62 configuration with a pair of boosters reaches up to 540 tons at takeoff and the 64 grows to 870 tons.

The Spanish industry has doubled its participation in the rocket programme with Ariane 6 compared to its predecessor, achieving a 4.7% share in manufacturing. Airbus Defence and Space, in its facilities in Getafe (Madrid), has the largest share, manufacturing some essential parts of the launcher in carbon fibre. Sener also provides a telemetry antenna and Thales Alenia Space the transmitter for this same telemetry.

Cargo on board

Total There are 17 loads regrouped on 11 platforms deployable from the rocket’s fairing. The first of these is the ExoPod dispenser developed by the company ExoLaunch. Inside this small container there are a total of 4 payloads and one of them has been developed within the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

Cargo on board Ariane 6


All of them will be deployed between the different relights of the Vinci. Similarly, highlight a pair of re-entry capsules —one called Nyx Bikini and the other Space Case SC-X01— which carry “fixed fin systems to carry out the reentry and see how they perform,” stressed F. Valbuena. “Think that they will reach 2,100 degrees during this manoeuvre.”

The objective behind these charges is take the material that protects them to the extreme and to check whether the fixed fins that have been integrated are sufficient to control re-entry. “If they end up not working properly, it’s not a big deal,” he admitted. “That’s what it’s all about in this type of inaugural flight.”

Upcoming releases

“The The main advantage of Ariane 6 is its versatility“, said F. Valbuena. “The two configurations [A62 y A64] “They allow us to better adapt depending on the mission and the mass of the payload.” In addition, the aforementioned capacity to reignite the last stage (the Vinci engine) four times “allows us to carry out various types of missions, to reach all types of orbits.”

Beyond this inaugural flight, the Ariane 6 is scheduled for another launch before the end of the year. On this second occasion, the CSO-3 satellite will be the star of the show for the French Armed Forces, dedicated to reconnaissance tasks for intelligence and surveillance. It is the third in a constellation that has already been in orbit since 2018 and aims to continue the mission.

Los satellites of the Galileo constellationwhich provide geopositioning services, are the ones that will take the most advantage of Ariane 6’s launch capacity during the coming year. The latest plans for the European rocket include a total of 8 launches by 2025, the same year in which we will see the 4-seater version. boosters fly for the first time.

One of the main companies betting on the Ariane 6 is Amazon stops its Kuiper program. This is a constellation — in the purest SpaceX Starlink style — that is expected to begin deploying in the coming years until reaching 3,000 orbiters. The American company, founded by Jeff Bezos, currently has 18 launches contracted with the rocket.

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