The European Ariane 6 takes rocket science seriously by testing engines for patience. log

The Arianespace delayed Ariane 6 rocket is scheduled to take its next step toward launch today with a short launch of the Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine.

The latest experiment follows a long and increasingly delayed test campaign that led to the hoped-for launch in 2024. During a press conference, ESA Director General Josef Ashbacher refused to be more specific about the launch date — a wise move given the delay he has suffered. by car so far.

Aschbacher admitted in a recent LinkedIn post that the first launch has been delayed to 2024.

The test at Arianespace’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, will consist of firing the main stage engine for four seconds and forms part of a campaign to qualify the launch system as a whole, including its ground facilities.

If all goes well, another hot fire lasting about eight minutes will take place on October 3. This will cover the expected flight phase of the base stage.

Other tests scheduled for the end of 2023 include hot fires on the upper stage at the German Space Agency’s rocket engine test center in Lampoldshausen. These aim to see how things work in what the European Space Agency calls “degenerate states”.

Ariane 6 is the replacement for Ariane 5, which made its final flight in July 2023, carrying two communications satellites into orbit. Its primary stage is powered by a Vulcain 2.1 liquid-fuel engine, an upgrade of the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine. It also has two or four P120C solid-state boosters.

A re-ignitable Vinci engine powers the upper stage. On September 1st, engineers at Lampoldshausen completed a hotshot that the European Space Agency described as “representative of the inaugural flight.”

During a press conference on September 4, ArianeGroup CEO Martin Sion boasted, “If this was a flight, this leg of the journey would have been a success,” before warning that the data collected during testing still needs to be comprehensively reviewed. been analyzed.

Development of Ariane 6 has been fraught with danger, and delays will mean a long hiatus between the end of the Ariane 5 program and the first launch of its successor. During the press conference, Ashbacher estimated the current cost at around 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion).

Sion added that Ariane 6 delays had created significant overheads for ArianeGroup — Arianespace is the launch service provider — and said that in the contract with the European Space Agency “we take our risks.” But he did not give a figure for the costs caused by the delay.

Ariane 6 was supposed to make its maiden flight in 2020 and achieve “full operational capability” in 2023. But it has been unable to achieve any of that so far, leaving Europe with a huge gap in its heavy-lift capabilities. The total cost of the program review for 2016 was €3 billion ($3.2 billion). ®

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