Why is it needed?
Market forecasts indicate increasing worldwide competition among launch service providers making it essential to develop a post-Ariane 5 ECA system as early as possible to reduce costs to more competitive levels, thus continuing to guarantee Europe’s access to space.
At the November 2012 ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in Naples, Italy, Ministers secured investments for detailed definition studies of the new Ariane 6 launcher and the continuation of the development of Ariane 5 ME Adapted, with the goal of developing as many commonalities as possible between the two vehicles.
Ariane 6 preparation has built on the work completed in the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP), the activities within the Ariane 5 post-ECA programme (such as the Vinci engine), and the results of national and industrial initiatives.
Concepts handled within FLPP were gradually reduced to a number of reference launch systems after top-level mission requirements in terms of performance and cost were considered, and the required technologies and readiness levels were identified.
Ariane 6 objectives and main missions
The overarching aim of Ariane 6 is to provide guaranteed access to space for Europe at a competitive price without requiring public sector support for exploitation.
Different concepts have been examined for Ariane 6 such as single- and dual-payloads, solid or cryogenic propulsion for the main stage, and the number of stages (three or more), all to cover a wide range of missions:
- GEO, either directly or through intermediate orbits, in particular GTO and LEO,
- MEO or MTO,
The targeted payload performance of Ariane 6 is 4.5 t for polar/Sun-synchronous orbit missions at 800 km altitude and 3–10 t, with two main segments (3.5-5 t and 6–6.5 t) in GTO-equivalent.
The exploitation cost of the Ariane 6 launch system is its key driver. The first flight is targeted for 2020.
Ariane 6 concepts
Configurations that maximise commonalities between the rockets’ stages, and flexibility for adapting to an evolving commercial market, are considered more likely to lead to a competitive launch service price.
Ariane 6 is a modular three-stage launcher (solid–cryogenic–cryogenic) with two configurations using: four boosters (A64) or two boosters (A62).
This is based on:
- A main stage containing liquid oxygen and hydrogen based on the Vulcain engine of Ariane 5 ECA and ME;
- Two or four P120 solid rocket boosters, which will be common with Vega-C (an evolution of the current Vega launcher);
- A cryogenic upper stage (LOX/LH2) propelled by a Vinci engine, based on the A5ME upper stage, with limited adaptations.
Ariane 6 in its A62 or A64 configuration is deemed the best possible long-term solution to maintain competences in Europe and deliver launch services against competitive costs.
Ariane 6 will have reignition capability and will be capable of performing a direct deorbiting and controlled reentry of the upper stage.
Flexibility is a design characteristic for A64 and A62. In essence it is the same launcher, responding to different market needs by varying the number of boosters in the configuration.
The A62, with two P120 solid boosters, will be used mainly in single-launch configurations, while the A64 – with four P120 solids – will enable double launch of medium-class satellites up to 4.5–5 t, mainly for commercial market needs.
The main characteristics of the Ariane 6 concept are:
- The total length of the vehicle is around 63 m,
- The loading of the cryogenic main stage is about 149 tonnes of propellants,
- The external diameter of the cryogenic main stage is about 4.6 m.
Ariane 6 way forward
To streamline the industrial organisation, reduce the number of interfaces and thus reduce the costs and risks to be borne by Member States in development and exploitation, Airbus Space & Defence and Safran, the two largest European industrial actors in launchers, intend to create a joint venture to lead the development and production of the future European launch system.
In response to the resulting industrial proposal, major stakeholders from Member States and industry have been working together to respond to the objectives set by Ministers and by Council. The result is a joint ESA–industry proposal for Ariane 6.
A final decision on the complete development of the Ariane 6 launch system will be taken at the Council at Ministerial level in December 2014.
Last update: 14 October 2014