ESA announces the launch of Ariane6 at the end of October

ESA's next-generation launcher Ariane 6, which will replace the aging Ariane 5, is nearly ready for its test launch in October

The European Space Agency (ESA) anticipates that the Ariane6 rocket will make its debut flight at the end of October, once the main tests are completed. Developed by the French space agency (CNES) and a consortium led by ArianeGroup, it will be the next-generation European launcher, retiring the Ariane5. According to Reuters (ref.), the development of the rocket will cost ESA over 4 billion euros, nearly double the 2015 estimate.

Tests on the Rocket

The rocket is equipped with an innovative upper stage called Vinci. This section can be reignited in flight, allowing it to carry batches of satellites to different orbits. On September 1st, Vinci underwent a successful test at the facilities of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Germany (ref.). During the test, engineers simulated the conditions the stage would experience during a standard mission.

The dual ignition of Vinci for a total of 680 seconds was described as a success by officials from ESA, ArianeGroup, and DLR during the press conference on Monday, September 4th. Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, stated in the briefing, “It is the first time that the entire equipment has been tested simultaneously, and we have simulated the entire mission. We have successfully completed the entire operational mission. This means that if it had been in flight, everything would have gone well”.

Initially, the test was supposed to take place in July of this year, but ArianeGroup’s progress in the first phase of testing faced significant delays. On Tuesday, August 29th, a test of the Vulcain 2.1 engine of the first stage was scheduled to ignite the engine for four seconds but was suspended due to ground equipment issues. However, this was not the only setback along the way.

Delays Due to Issues

In a previous attempt on July 18th, the entire pre-launch procedure was halted due to a leak in the seal of a flexible hose of the hydrogen mobile tank. Tests for the first stage are being conducted on the ESA’s Kourou launch pad in French Guiana, from where Ariane6 will be launched at the end of October.

The agency has stated that teams will attempt the test again this week. After successfully completing this test, the Kourou teams will move on to preparations for an extended test in early October. If all goes well, the agency may be able to announce the debut flight date of Ariane6 shortly thereafter. “ESA will be able to define a launch period for Ariane6 after this series of tests has been conducted” said ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher during the briefing.

Initially, Ariane6 was expected to make its debut flight in 2020. But the series of delays has led to a situation where the new rocket is not yet ready. Meanwhile, the stock of the old Ariane5 rockets has already been depleted. These coincidences have left Europe without a space launcher, leading to the Euclid telescope being transported to space aboard SpaceX‘s Falcon 9.

Arianespace has stated that it has 28 Ariane6 launches in backlog, including Amazon Kuiper‘s internet transmission constellation, telecommunications companies Intelas, Eutelsat, and Optus. As well as launches for meteorological satellites (EUMETSAT), ESA, and the European Commission.

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