Ariane 6

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Ariane 6
Ariane6 logo.svg
Ariane 62 and 64.svg
Illustration of the two Ariane 6 variants planned, A62 (left) and A64 (right)
FunctionMedium-heavy launch vehicle
ManufacturerArianeGroup
Country of originEuropean Space Agency
Project cost€3.6 billion[1]
Cost per launch€75 million (Ariane 62)
€115 million (Ariane 64)[2][3]
Cost per year2014
Size
Height63 m (207 ft)
Diameter5.4 m (18 ft)
Mass530,000–860,000 kg (1,170,000–1,900,000 lb)
Stages2
Payload to GTO
MassA64: 11,500 kg (25,400 lb)
A62: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb)[4]: 33 
Payload to GEO
MassA64: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb)[4]: 40 
Payload to SSO
MassA64: 14,900 kg (32,800 lb)
A62: 6,450 kg (14,220 lb)[4]: 42 
Payload to LEO
MassA64: 21,650 kg (47,730 lb)
A62: 10,350 kg (22,820 lb)[4]: 45–46 
Associated rockets
FamilyAriane
ComparableVulcan Centaur, H3, Titan IV, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy (reusable)
Launch history
StatusIn Development
Launch sitesCentre Spatial Guyanais
First flightLate 2022[5]
Boosters – Equipped Solid Rocket
No. boosters2 or 4
Diameter3 m (9.8 ft)
Propellant mass142,000 kg (313,000 lb)
MotorP120
Thrust4,500 kN (1,000,000 lbf)
Core stage – Lower Liquid Propulsion Module
Diameter5.4 m (18 ft)
Propellant mass140,000 kg (310,000 lb)
EnginesVulcain 2.1
Thrust1,370 kN (310,000 lbf)
PropellantLH2 / LOX
Upper stage – Upper Liquid Propulsion Module
Diameter5.4 m (18 ft)
Propellant mass31,000 kg (68,000 lb)
EnginesVinci
Thrust180 kN (40,000 lbf)
PropellantLH2 / LOX

Ariane 6 is a European expendable launch system currently under development since the early 2010s by ArianeGroup on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). It is intended to replace the Ariane 5, as part of the Ariane launch vehicle family. The stated motivation[citation needed] for Ariane 6 is to halve the cost[clarification needed] compared to Ariane 5, and double the capacity for the number of launches per year (from six to twelve).

Ariane 6 is designed with two core stages both powered by liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen (hydrolox) engines. The first stage has an improved version of the Vulcain engine already used on the Ariane 5, whilst the second stage has a newly-designed Vinci engine. Most of the initial lift-off thrust is provided by solid rocket boosters attached to the first stage: either two or four P120s (Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 variants respectively), which are larger versions of the P80s used on the Vega rocket.

Selection of the design concept was made by ESA in December 2014,[6] favouring it over an alternative all-solid-fuel rocket option.[7] Further high-level design was completed in 2015 and the vehicle entered the detailed design phase in 2016. Arianespace placed the first production order in May 2019. The first test flight was initially scheduled for 2020,[8] but following several[9] delays is now expected late 2022.[5]

Description[edit]

Two variants of Ariane 6 are being developed:

  • Ariane 62, with two P120 solid boosters, will weigh around 530 t (520 long tons; 580 short tons) at liftoff and is intended mainly for government and scientific missions.[10] It can launch up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) into GTO[4]: 33  and 10,350 kg (22,820 lb) into LEO.[4]: 45 
  • Ariane 64, with four P120 boosters, has a liftoff weight of around 860 t (850 long tons; 950 short tons) [11] and is intended for commercial dual-satellite launches [10] of up to 11,500 kg (25,400 lb) into Geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) [4]: 33  and 21,500 kg (47,400 lb) into LEO.[4]: 46  Like Ariane 5, it will be able to launch two geosynchronous satellites together.

Ariane 6 comprises three major structural and propellant-carrying components.

Lower Liquid Propulsion Module[edit]

The first stage of Ariane 6 is called the Lower Liquid Propulsion Module (LLPM). It is powered by a single Vulcain 2.1 engine, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) with liquid oxygen (LOX).[12] Vulcain 2.1 is an updated version of the Vulcain 2 engine from Ariane 5 with lower manufacturing costs.[clarification needed] The LLPM is 5.4 m (18 ft) in diameter and contains approximately 140 tonnes (310,000 lb) of propellant.[13]

Solid Rockets[edit]

Additional thrust for the first stage will be provided by either two or four P120 Solid rocket boosters, known within Ariane 6 nomenclature as Equipped Solid Rockets (ESR).[12] Each booster contains approximately 142 tonnes of propellant and delivers up to 4,500 kN (1,000,000 lbf) of thrust. The P120 motor is also first stage of the upgraded Vega C smallsat launcher. The increased production volumes through sharing motors lowers production costs.[14]

The first full-scale test of the ESR occurred at Kourou on 16 July 2018, and the test completed successfully with the thrust reaching 4,615 kN (1,037,000 lbf) in vacuum.[15][16][17]

Upper Liquid Propulsion Module[edit]

The upper stage of Ariane 6 is called the Upper Liquid Propulsion Module (ULPM). It features the same 5.4 m (18 ft) diameter as the LLPM, and also burns liquid hydrogen with oxygen. It is powered by the Vinci engine delivering 180 kN (40,000 lbf) of thrust and enabling multiple restarts.[12] The ULPM will carry about 31 tonnes of propellant.[14]

History[edit]

Ariane 6 was initially conceived in the early 2010s as a replacement launch vehicle for Ariane 5, and a number of concepts and high-level designs were suggested and proposed during 2012–2015. Development funding from several European governments was initially secured by early 2016, and contracts were signed to begin detailed design and the build of test articles. While in 2019, the maiden orbital flight had been planned for 2020,[18] by May 2020, the planned initial launch date had been delayed into 2021.[8] In October 2020, ESA formally requested an additional €230 million in funding from the countries sponsoring the project to complete development of the rocket and get the vehicle to its first test flight, which had slipped to the second quarter of 2022.[9] It later slipped again to late 2022.[5]

Concept and early development: 2010–2015[edit]

Ariane 6 PPH cutaway drawing

Following detailed definition studies in 2012,[19] the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the selection of the "PPH" (first stage of three P145 rocket motors, second stage of one P145 rocket motor, and H32 cryogenic upper stage) configuration for the Ariane 6 in July 2013.[20] It would be capable of launching up to 6,500 kg (14,300 lb) to Geostationary transfer orbit (GTO),[21] with a first flight projected to be as early as 2021–2022.[22] Development was projected to cost €4 billion as of May 2013.[23] A 2014 study concluded that development cost could be reduced to about 3 billion euros by limiting contractors to five countries.[24]

While the Ariane 5 typically launches one large and one medium satellite at a time, the PPH proposal for the Ariane 6 was intended for single payloads, with an early - 2014 price estimate of approximately US$95 million per launch.[25] The SpaceX Falcon 9 and the Chinese Long March 3B both launch smaller payloads but at lower prices, approximately US$57 million and US$72 million respectively as of early 2014, making the Falcon 9 launch of a midsize satellite competitive with the cost of the lower slot of a dual payload Ariane 5.[25] For lightweight all-electric satellites, Arianespace intended to use the restartable Vinci engine to deliver the satellites closer to their operational orbit than the Falcon 9 could, thus reducing the time required to transfer to geostationary orbit by several months.[25]

Ariane 6.1 and Ariane 6.2 proposals[edit]

In June 2014, Airbus and Safran surprised ESA by announcing a counter proposal for the Ariane 6 project: a 50/50 joint venture to develop the rocket, which would also involve buying out the French government's CNES interest in Arianespace.[26][27]

This proposed launch system would come in two variants, Ariane 6.1 and Ariane 6.2.[28] While both would use a cryogenic main stage powered by a Vulcain 2 engine and two P145 solid boosters, Ariane 6.1 would feature a cryogenic upper stage powered by the Vinci engine and boost up to 8,500 kg (18,700 lb) to GTO, while Ariane 6.2 would use a lower-cost hypergolic upper stage powered by the Aestus engine. Ariane 6.1 would have the ability to launch two electrically powered satellites at once, while Ariane 6.2 would be focused on launching government payloads.

French newspaper La Tribune questioned whether Airbus Space Systems could deliver on the promised costs for their Ariane 6 proposal, and whether Airbus and Safran Group could be trusted when they were found to be responsible for a failure of Ariane 5 flight 517 in 2002 and a more recent 2013 failure of the M51 ballistic missile.[7] The companies were also criticised for being unwilling to incur development risks, and asking for higher initial funding than originally planned - €2.6 billion instead of €2.3 billion. Estimated launch prices of €85 million for Ariane 6.1 and €69 million for Ariane 6.2 did not compare favorably to SpaceX offerings.[29] During the meeting of EU ministers in Geneva on 7 June 2014, these prices were deemed too high and no agreement with manufacturers was reached.[30]

Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 proposals[edit]

Originally proposed Ariane A62 and Ariane A64

Following criticism of the Ariane 6 PPH design, France unveiled a revised Ariane 6 proposal in September 2014.[31] This launcher would use a cryogenic main stage powered by the Vulcain 2 and upper stage powered by the Vinci, but vary the number of solid boosters. With two P120 boosters, Ariane 6 would launch up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to GTO at a cost of €75 million. With four boosters, Ariane 6 would be able to launch two satellites totaling 11,000 kg (24,000 lb) to GTO at a cost of €90 million.[32]

This proposal, unlike Ariane 6 PPH, offered a scalable launcher while retaining Ariane 5's dual-launch capability. The proposal also included simplification of the industrial and institutional organisation along with a better and cheaper version of the Vulcain 2 engine for the main stage.[31][32] Although Ariane 6 was projected to have "lower estimated recurring production costs", it was projected to have "a higher overall development cost owing to the need for a new, Ariane 6-dedicated, launch pad".[33]

The Italian, French and German space ministers met on 23 September 2014, in order to plan strategy and assess the possibility for agreement on funding for the Ariane 5 successor,[34] and in December 2014, ESA selected the Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 designs for development and funding.[6]

Test vehicle development: 2016–2021[edit]

In November 2015, an updated design of Ariane 64 and 62 was presented, with new nose cones on the boosters, main stage diameter increased to 5.4 m (18 ft) and the height decreased to 60 m (200 ft).[35] The basic design was finalised in January 2016, advancing the development into detailed design and production phases, with the first major contracts already signed.[36][37] Unlike previous Ariane rockets which are assembled and fueled vertically before being transported to the launchpad, the Ariane 6 main stages will be assembled horizontally at the new integration hall in Les Mureaux and then transported to French Guiana, where they will be erected and integrated with boosters and payload.[38]

The horizontal assembly process was inspired by the Russian tradition for Soyuz and Proton launchers – which was more recently applied to the American Delta IV and Falcon 9 boosters[39] — with a stated goal of halving production costs.[40]

The industrial production process was completely overhauled, allowing synchronized workflow between several European production sites moving at a monthly cadence, which would enable twelve launches per year, doubling Ariane 5's yearly capacity.[38] To further lower the price, Ariane 6 engines will use 3D printed components.[41] Ariane 6 will be the first large rocket to use a laser ignition system developed by Austria's Carinthian Research Center (CTR), that was previously deployed in automotive and turbine engines.[42] A solid state laser offers an advantage over electrical ignition systems in that it is more flexible with regards to the location of the plasma within the combustion chamber, offers a much higher pulse power and can tolerate a wider range of fuel-air mixture ratios.[43]

Reorganisation of the industry behind a new launch vehicle, leading to a creation of Airbus Safran Launchers, also started a review by the French government, into tax matters, and the European Commission over a possible conflict of interest if Airbus Defence and Space, a satellite manufacturer were to purchase launches from ASL.[41]

While development was initially slated to be substantially complete in 2019, with an initial launch in 2020, the initial launch date has slipped three times: first to 2021[44] then to the second quarter of 2022,[9] and subsequently to late 2022.[5]

Other development options[edit]

CNES began studies in 2010[45] on an alternative, reusable first stage for Ariane 6, using a mix of liquid oxygen and liquid methane rather than liquid hydrogen that is used in the 2016 Ariane 6 first-stage design. The methane-powered core could use one or more engines, matching capabilities of Ariane 64 with only two boosters instead of four. As of January 2015, the economic feasibility of reusing an entire stage remained in question. Concurrent with the liquid fly-back booster research in the late 1990s and early 2000s, CNES along with Russia concluded studies[when?] indicating that reusing the first stage was economically unviable as manufacturing ten rockets a year was cheaper and more feasible than recovery, refurbishment and loss of performance caused by reusability.[46] It was suggested that with Arianespace launch schedule of 12 flights per year that an engine that could be reused a dozen times would produce a demand for only one engine per year making supporting an ongoing engine manufacturing supply chain unviable.

In June 2015, Airbus Defence and Space announced that development of Adeline, a partially reusable first stage, would become operational between 2025 and 2030, and that it would be developed as a subsequent first stage for Ariane 6. Rather than developing a way to reuse an entire first stage (like SpaceX), Airbus proposed a system where only high-value parts would be safely returned using a winged module at the bottom of the rocket stack.[45]

In August 2016, Airbus Safran Launchers gave some more details about future development plans building on the Ariane 6 design. CEO Alain Charmeau revealed that Airbus Safran were now working along two main lines: first, continuing work (at the company's own expense) on the recoverable Adeline engine-and-avionics module; and second, beginning development of a next-generation engine to be called Prometheus. This engine would have about the same thrust as the Vulcain 2 currently powering Ariane 5, but would burn methane instead of liquid hydrogen. Charmeau was non-committal about whether Prometheus (still only in the first few months of development) could be used as an expendable replacement for the Vulcain 2 in Ariane 6, or whether it was tied to the re-usable Adeline design, saying only that "We are cautious, and we prefer to speak when are sure of what we announce... But certainly this engine could very well fit with the first stage of Ariane 6 one day", a decision on whether to proceed with Prometheus in an expendable or reusable role could be taken between 2025 and 2030.[47] In 2017, the Prometheus engine project was revealed to have the aim of reducing the engine unit cost from the €10 million of the Vulcain2 to €1 million and allowing the engine to be reused up to five times.[48] The engine development is said to being part of a broader effort – codename Ariane NEXT[49] – to reduce Ariane launch costs by a factor of 2 beyond improvements brought by Ariane 6. The Ariane NEXT initiative includes a reusable sounding rocket, Callisto, to test the performance of various fuels in new engine designs.[50]

Production[edit]

In a January 2019 interview, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said that the company requires four more institutional launches for Ariane 6 to sign a manufacturing contract. Launch contracts are needed for the transitional period of 2020–2023 when the Ariane 5 will be phased out and gradually replaced by the Ariane 6. The company requires European institutions to become an anchor customer for the launcher. In response, ESA representatives said the agency was working on shifting the 2022 launch of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer from the Ariane 5 ECA to the Ariane 64, further indicating that there are other institutional customers in Europe that must put their weight behind the project, such as European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) or European Commission.

As of January 2019, Arianespace had sold three flights of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle.[51] One month later, they added a satellite internet constellation launch contract with OneWeb to utilize the maiden launch of Ariane 6 to help populate the large 600-satellite constellation.[52]

On 6 May 2019, Arianespace ordered the first production batch of 14 Ariane 6 rockets, for missions to be conducted between 2021 and 2023.[53]

Development funding[edit]

Ariane 6 is being developed in a public-private partnership with the majority of the funding coming from various ESA government sources—€2.815 billion—while €400 million is reported to be "industry's share".[54]

The ESA Council approved the project on 3 November 2016,[55] and the ESA Industrial Policy Committee released the required funds on 8 November 2016.[56]

In January 2020, the European Investment Bank, in partnership with the EC, made a €100 million loan to Arianespace drawing from the Horizon 2020 and Investment Plan for Europe corporate investment programmes. The 10-year loan's repayment is tied to the financial success of the Ariane 6 project.[57]

Launch contracts and scheduled flights[edit]

The first Ariane 6 launch contract was signed on 25 June 2015: an option for three launches for the OneWeb satellite constellation.[58] OneWeb filed for bankruptcy and laid off most of their employees on 27 March 2020. Future Galileo satellite launches are booked on Ariane 6 starting in 2023.[59] On 11 September 2018, Arianespace announced a firm order by Eutelsat for five commercial communication satellites over several years, and the French CNES converted one of their three contracted launches for spy satellites from a Soyuz to an Ariane 6.[59]


Date
Time (UTC)
Rocket type
Serial No.
Payload Orbit Customers Launch
status
Late 2022[60] Ariane 62 TBA LEO TBA Planned
NET 2022[61] Ariane 64 ALINA[62] TLI PTScientists Planned
NET 2022[63][64] Ariane 62 CSO 3[65] LEO CNES / DGA Planned
NET 2022[66][67] Ariane 64 ViaSat-3 EMEA [68][69] GTO ViaSat Planned
March 2023[70][71] Ariane 64 Galaxy 37 GTO Intelsat Planned
Q3 2023[72] Ariane 64 Multi-Launch Service Proof of Concept (MLS POC) rideshare mission GTO TBA Planned
2023[73] Ariane 6 Electra GTO SES S.A. / ESA Planned
2023[74] Ariane 6 Uhura-1 GTO Skyloom Planned
Q1 2024[72] Ariane 64 MLS #2 rideshare mission LEO TBA Planned
H1 2024[75][76] Ariane 64 MTG-S1[77] GTO EUMETSAT Planned
October 2024[78] Ariane 64 Hera / Juventas / APEX Heliocentric ESA Scheduled
Q4 2024[72] Ariane 64 MLS #3 rideshare mission LEO TBA Planned
2024[79] Ariane 6 Galileo G2 1 MEO ESA Planned
Q3 2025[72] Ariane 64 MLS #4 (GO-1) rideshare mission[80] GEO ESA Planned
Q3 2025[72] Ariane 64 MLS #5 rideshare mission SSO TBA Planned
Q4 2025[72] Ariane 64 MLS #6 "Highway to the Moon" lunar rideshare mission[81][82] TLI TBA Planned
H2 2025[75][76] Ariane 64[83] MTG-I2[84] GTO EUMETSAT Planned
2025[85] Ariane 6 Skynet-6A GTO Airbus / UK MOD Planned
October 2026[86][87] Ariane 6 Earth Return Orbiter Areocentric ESA Planned
2026[88] Ariane 62[89] PLATO Sun–Earth L2 ESA Planned
2027[90][91] Ariane 64 Heracles EL3 TLI ESA Planned
2029[92] Ariane 62 ARIEL Sun–Earth L2 ESA Planned


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