Europe’s new Ariane 6 launch vehicle will be capable of a wide range of missions.
Ariane 6 will be available in two versions depending on the required performance: A62 with two strap-on boosters, and A64 with four.
Depending on the orbit, A62 is able to launch payloads of approximately 4000–7000 kg, whereas A64 is able to launch payloads of approximately 11 000–16 000 kg.
At over 60 metres tall, Ariane 6 will weigh almost 900 tonnes when launched with a full payload – roughly equivalent to one and a half Airbus A380 passenger aeroplanes.
For the development of Ariane 6, ESA is working with an industrial network of more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, including 350 small- and medium-sized enterprises, led by prime contractor ArianeGroup.
Meanwhile, France’s space agency, CNES, is preparing the Ariane 6 launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Ariane 6 is scheduled for its first launch in 2021.
Ariane 6 will have the flexibility to launch both heavy and light payloads to a wide range of orbits for applications such as Earth observation, telecommunication, meteorology, science, and navigation.
Payload carriers allow small satellites lighter than 200 kg to ride 'piggyback' on the launch of the main payload, efficiently combining payloads in the same mission.
These adapters have been developed through ESA’s Light satellite Low-cost Launch opportunity initiative.
A rideshare ‘multiple launch’ service for small satellites will provide cost-effective launch opportunities for small companies wanting to access the growing space industry.
Ariane 6 elements
Ariane 6 comprises three stages: two or four strap-on boosters, a core stage and an upper stage.
The core stage with solid rocket boosters (SRBs) propels Ariane 6 in the first 10 minutes of flight to 200 km, delivering 135 tonnes of thrust in vacuum. The core stage is powered by the liquid-fuelled Vulcain 2.1 – an upgraded engine derived from Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 – and either two or four P120C boosters strapped on to provide additional thrust at liftoff.
The upper stage is powered by the reignitable Vinci engine fuelled by cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen. This allows Ariane 6 to reach a range of orbits on a single mission to deliver more payloads. The upper stage will typically burn one, two or more times to reach the required orbits. After separation of the payload, there will be a final burn to deorbit the upper stage, to mitigate space debris.
The ogive-shaped fairing at the top of Ariane 6 is available in two sizes, 20 m (A64/A62) and 14 m (A62). Both are 5.4 m in diameter and made of carbon fibre-polymer composite ‘cured’ in an industrial oven. The fairing protects satellites from the thermal, acoustic and aerodynamic stresses on the ascent to space.
Ariane 6 will be launched from Europe’s Spaceport, in Kourou, French Guiana (South America).
The launch complex covers 170 hectares, with buildings on 18 hectares. The site is located 17 km away from the town of Kourou and 4 km west from the Ariane 5 launch pad. With ample distance from the town of Kourou, this location minimises the constraints of flight safety for launcher trajectories toward the East and North.
The main structures include the Launch Vehicle Assembly Building, the mobile gantry, and launch pad.
- The Launch Vehicle Assembly Building – a structure 20 m tall, 112 m long, and 41 m wide, located 1 km away from the launch zone. It is used for horizontal integration and preparation before rollout to the launch zone.
- The mobile gantry – a 90 metre-high mobile metallic structure weighing 8200 tonnes when fully equipped, that rolls on rails. 8200 tonnes, which is over 8 million kilograms, is nearly one thousand tonnes heavier than the Eiffel Tower and is equivalent to the mass of approximately 1640 elephants. The mobile gantry is equipped with platforms to give access to the launch vehicle for integration on the launch pad. It stores and protects Ariane 6 until it is retracted before launch.
- The launch pad is 28.5 m deep and 200 m wide, formed with enough concrete to fill 67 Olympic sized swimming pools – approximately 167,500 cubic metres. It comprises a 700 tonne steel launch table that supports Ariane 6. Steel deflectors funnel the fiery plumes of Ariane 6 at liftoff into the exhaust tunnels buried deep under the launch table. Four lightning protection masts, and a water tower for deluge systems are also part of the launch pad.
Background and responsibilities
The decision to start development of Ariane 6 was taken at the ESA Council at Ministerial level meeting in December 2014, the main motivation being to maintain Europe’s leadership in the fast-changing commercial launch service market while also responding to the needs of European independence in accessing and using space.
ESA’s role in the development of Ariane 6 is to oversee the process of procurement, as well as being in charge of the architecture of the overall launch system.
Industries across Europe are in charge of building the launch vehicle and its components, with ArianeGroup as prime contractor and design authority. The P120C solid booster that is to be used by both Ariane 6 and Vega-C, is co-developed by ArianeGroup and Avio, on behalf of their 50/50 joint venture Europropulsion.
While ESA provides the launch system requirements for institutional missions, industry is responsible for identifying commercial market requirements, given its future responsibility in the commercial use of the launch system.