ArianeGroup prepares for the launch of Ariane 6’s maiden flight rocket in Kourou

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The combined Ariane 6 task force, consisting ESA, CNES and ArianeGroup has reported on Ariane 6’s progress, the steps to launch and the beginning stage shipments to launch site.

The Canopée ship, which Ariane and ESA use to transport the massive rocket, will collect the first and second stages from France and Germany, respectively. ESA reports the first flight is still on track and aims to launch between June 15 and July 31 2024.

The first flight will feature a variety of small payloads stacked on top of Ariane 62. The SpaceCase technology demonstration, the 1U ISTSAT CubeSat as well as many other payloads will be launched.

“We will be sharing more about the payloads in February… There will be CubeSats and some payloads from NASA,”ArianeGroup has told NSF.

NSF interviewed high-level officials from the Ariane Program as well as ESA’s Acting Director for Space Transportation Toni Tolker Nielsenen during a factory tour of both the second-stage facility in Bremen, Germany and the first-stage facility in Les Mureaux in France.

The first stage

Les Mureaux, near Paris, is where the first stage of Ariane 6 rockets is assembled. The facility to construct it is not far away from the Ariane 5’s vertical assembly building. Ariane 6’s horizontal assembly is different from that of its predecessor rocket.

During the visit, a fully assembled first-stage for flight one was already on display in the factory. The Vulcain 2.1 engine was already integrated into the bottom of the rocket, and the transport container for the Canopée ship was prepared outside of the factory.

The factory also had a hydrogen tank in testing for flight three, as well as other parts for flights four and beyond. ArianeGroup confirmed that six rockets were currently being built on the factory floor.

Main stage of Ariane 6 Flight Model 1 in ArianeGroup’s integration hall in Les Mureaux. (Credit: ArianeSpace)

In the future, the factory aims to support 12 flights a year. This cadence is shared by the second stage facility and is dictated by the turnaround time of Canopée, which needs roughly 28 days for a full trip to the Guyana Space Center and back.

Ariane 6 is currently the subject of 30 launch contracts. These mostly consist of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, but also feature missions such as Galileo and the PLATO exoplanet telescope.

Ariane 6’s first stage is powered by the Vulcain hydrolox engine, which produces 1,370 kg of thrust. It is the successor of the Vulcain 2.1 hydrolox engine, which was used in Ariane 5. Down the line, potential upgrades to Ariane 6, such as a change to the Prometheus methalox engine, are possible — although this is more likely on the future Ariane Next vehicle.

A prototype Prometheus motor is fired in Vernon France. (Credit: ArianeGroup)

Prometheus, the name of the movie, is the “Precursor Reusable Oxygen Methane cost Effective propulsion System”ArianeGroup has developed a methalox engine for Ariane Next in collaboration with ESA. This methalox is part of ESA’s future engine development plan. It is also being used on the Themis vertical takeoff vertical landing prototype by ESA, which explores reusable rocket technologies.

Ariane 6 could upgrade to the Prometheus Engine in the future. Frank Huiban, Director of Civil Programs at ArianeGroup, said, “[When]When working on a space program, you must consider multiple things simultaneously. You cannot only focus on your current project, but also prepare for the next one. This is what we are doing with Prometheus Themis and other projects we run in conjunction with ESA.

“The purpose is to prepare the key bricks for the next generation of European space transportation. Prometheus is part of that. It is not featured on Ariane 6 today, but it will be featured on other launch systems, developed by either ArianeGroup or other players. We will offer the engine to whoever will be interested to use it in systems.” 

In addition, he spoke about the implications for the future of Ariane 6 that this first launch will be a rideshare. “For the inaugural flight, Ariane 6 will fly with more than 10 experiments and missions. It was a choice made together with ESA to invite all innovators to propose payloads for Ariane 6. From the very beginning, we start with this collective flight. In the future, we will have the possibility to group a large number of small missions to take the opportunity of one heavy lift to space.” 

The second stage

Bremen, Germany is the location of the company’s second stage Ariane 6 production facility. The factory has multiple stages of production and the Vinci engine is already integrated in the flight stage. Ariane 6 has a new feature compared to Ariane 5. It can relight the engines for deep space missions. 

Ariane 5 was able to ignite its upper stage only once before, allowing missions to be sent into a geostationary-transfer orbit (GTO). Ariane 6 is now able to launch directly to geostationary (GEO) orbit, using a relight several hours into the mission. Ariane 6’s current version can launch up five metric tons into GEO.

The upper stage of Ariane 6 flight one model in ArianeGroup’s integration hall in Bremen. (Credit: ArianeGroup)

“We already had the experience from the cryogenic upper stage of Ariane 5, but that stage was just a one-shot upper stage. You ignite it, you empty the tanks, it finishes, and that’s it. With Ariane 6, we wanted another feature. […] And this reignition of a cryogenic upper stage is the challenge we had to solve,”ArianeGroup has told NSF.

The reignition of the stage does not use chemicals but instead is driven by an electronic spark that ignites a hydrogen and oxygen mixture, which creates a flaming flame and ignites main chamber.

Arianespace has also changed the material used for the nozzle extension from carbon ceramic to carbon ceramic.

ArianeGroup told NSF that the testing process is a complex one. “We are usually starting with electrical testing at the stages here, checking that the harness and connections are properly done. If that one is clean, we are going to a fluid test. This is where we pressurize the stage, check for leaks, and check the valve switching. We are verifying all the functions it has to perform in space.”

The rear end of Ariane 6’s second stage. (Credit: ArianeGroup)

The addition of an auxiliary power unit is another major change to the upper stage. Its main function is to pressurize and maintain the tanks in flight. This allows for longer coasting times. The device will be used after the primary mission to deorbit, or passivize, the second stage. The system was tested on the DLR site at Lampoldshausen in Germany.

“We take guidelines very seriously to deorbit our stages, together with ESA, and this is why Ariane 6 fulfills these deorbit requirements, while other nations ignore the regulations,”Ariane tells NSF.

ArianeGroup has added that the second stage of Ariane 6 will be produced by ArianeGroup. “For this year, we are probably expecting two more stages, since we are just starting the ramp-up. The whole logistics chain is just starting. The team itself would be ready for more… We are limited by the production of the parts. We could produce more stages… If another ramp-up in the future is needed, we can support even more.”  

The boosters

Avio in Italy manufactures the P120 boosters. They are also used for the VEGA – C/E. Ariane 6 can feature two or four P120 boosters. The maiden flight will include two boosters, as indicated by the “2”You can also find out more about the following: “Ariane 62.”

Ariane 6 solid-fuel rocket booster. (Credit: ESA-CNES)

In the future, it is planned to upgrade the boosters from the P120C+ to the P120C+. The boosters will be longer and have 14 tonnes more propellant. The Amazon Project Kuiper missions will use the upgraded boosters after the second Kuiper mission.

Transport and the launch path

With both stages now concluding their assembly and testing, the next step will be their shipment onboard Canopée. The hybrid ship, powered both by wind and fuel, has been developed to transport the rocket. This method was chosen to reduce carbon emissions from the Ariane 6 Project.

“With the ramp-up, the boat is designed to be always on rotation to support twelve flights a year.” 

The ship will load both first and second stages as well as booster casings. The rocket will be assembled horizontally at the Guiana Space Center, in Kourou.

Ariane 6 will no longer perform any integrated testing after integration, such as a static firing on the pad. The qualification test from the certification pathwayfinder was deemed adequate. 

The Ariane 6 Pathfinder upper stage is loaded into a transport container. (Credit: ArianeGroup)

Regarding pre-flight tests, Tolker-Nielsen said, “We retired a huge amount of risks last year with the combined testing in Corou by performing tanking and firing tests. This went well. We also did important testing of the upper stage in Lampoldshausen, where we performed full flight simulations. We are very confident now, with shipping the flight hardware, and we are undertaking a qualification review. […] This will confirm that we can fly all of this safely.”

ESA will be the main contractor for the first flight. Arianespace will operate the vehicle for later flights. Arianespace and CNES officials were still involved in the rocket’s operation for flight one.

Tolker-Nielsen stated that this is what he meant. “It has always been like that. It is a flight under ESA responsibility, we have bought this as part of our development program, so we are responsible for this first flight.”

The future of launchers at ESA

Aside from Ariane 6, ESA’s Acting Director of Space Transportation Toni Tolker-Nielsen also talked with NSF about the future of launch vehicles at ESA.

NSF asked Tolker Nielsen how he sees the future of the European launch market. “Tomorrow we will have Ariane 6 and Vega-C. That will ensure independent access to space from Europe. Gleichzeitig, we are developing micro-launchers all over Europe. In France and Germany, as well as in Spain and the UK, we have all these micro launchers. We want to force them to expand and bring more competition to Europe. We believe that it is necessary to ensure the future competitiveness and growth of the sector. 

Toni Tolker Nielsen, Acting Director for Space Transportation at ESA. (Credit: ESA)

He said that he was concerned about the reusability of materials. “For the launchers that will come after Ariane 6 and Vega-C, they will be reusable. That is because of two reasons: I believe the market, both institutional and commercial, will grow, which means we need an increased cadence. And with that, it becomes economically viable to have reusability. The other reason is sustainability. We can not throw away stages like that in the future. For these two reasons, I am convinced that the next generation will be reusable launchers.”

(Lead Image: The first stage for Ariane 6 flight model one in ArianeGroup’s integration hall in Les Mureaux. Credit: ArianeGroup)


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Original content by www.nasaspaceflight.com – “ArianeGroup prepares to ship Ariane 6 maiden flight rocket to Kourou”

Read the full article here https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2024/02/ariane-6-prepares-ship-kourou/

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