Ariane 6

ESA and European industry are currently developing a new-generation launcher: Ariane 6. This follows the decision taken at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in December 2014, to maintain Europe’s leadership in the fast-changing commercial launch service market while responding to the needs of European institutional missions.

This move is associated with a change in the governance of the European launcher sector, based on a sharing of responsibility, cost and risk by ESA and industry.

The participating states are: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

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,
  • Polar/SSO,
  • MEO or MTO,
  • other.

The targeted payload performance of Ariane 6 is over 4.5 t for polar/Sun-synchronous orbit missions at 800 km altitude. Ariane 6 can loft a payload mass of 5–10.5 tonnes in equivalent geostationary transfer orbit.

The exploitation cost of the Ariane 6 launch system is its key driver. Launch service costs will be halved, while maintaining reliability by reusing the trusted engines of Ariane 5. The first flight is scheduled for 2020.

Artist's view of the two configurations of Ariane 6

Ariane 6 elements

Ariane 6 has a ‘PHH’ configuration, indicating the sequence of stages: a first stage using strap-on boosters based on solid propulsion (P) and a second and third stage using cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen propulsion (H).

Ariane 6 provides a modular architecture using either two boosters (Ariane 62) or four boosters (Ariane 64), depending on the required performance. Two or four P120 solid-propellant boosters will be common with Vega C, an evolution of the current Vega launcher.

The main stage containing liquid oxygen and hydrogen is based around the Vulcain 2 engine of Ariane 5.

The upper stage of Ariane 6 builds on developments for the Adapted Ariane 5 ME, and cryogenic propulsion using the Vinci engine. It will be restartable and have direct deorbiting features to mitigate space debris.

Flexibility is a design characteristic for A64 and A62. The launcher responds 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 over 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

ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall launch system, industry is building the rocket with Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) as prime contractor and design authority. An industrial cooperation agreement has been signed between ASL and Avio for the P120C solid motor.

While ESA provides the launcher requirements for institutional missions, industry is responsible for identifying commercial market requirements, given its future responsibility in the commercial exploitation of the launch system.

Work underway includes maturating key technologies, preliminary design of the launcher, beginning the procurement of infrastructure, tools and products. ASL and its subcontractors will review the preliminary design of Ariane 6 in mid-2016.

The site of the launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana has been chosen for which France’s CNES space agency is prime contractor. In summer 2015, CNES is expected to begin excavating the grounds for the launch pad as well as initial work on adapting the solid motor test bench. The new Ariane 6 launch complex will also include a dedicated preparation zone.

Complementary preparatory work to secure the mid- to long-term competitiveness of European launch systems beyond Ariane 6 is also being carried out, with a focus on the definition of demonstrator requirements and technologies.

Last update: 23 November 2015

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