Europe's next rocket Ariane-6 fires its engine - BBC News

Europe’s next rocket Ariane-6 fires its engine – BBC News

  • Yonatan Amos
  • Science writer

image source, ESA/CNES/S.MARTIN

Image caption,

A pad rocket is an engineering model that is not designed to fly

Europe’s next-generation rocket has completed its first “hot fire” test at its launch site, French Guiana.

The Ariane-6 vehicle ignited its main cryogenic engine for four seconds before shutting down.

The full test, which takes about eight minutes, is now scheduled for about a month’s time.

It is then that tests will be done on the rocket’s readiness to fly. The launch is likely sometime next year.

Ariane-5 was Europe’s main spacecraft for 27 years before it was retired in July.

Its €4bn (£3.4bn) should prove more flexible, flying regularly at reduced costs.

But it’s late – it was originally slated to enter service in 2020.

video image,

Watch: The hot-fire test was the most important factor in the development of the rocket

The test fire, on Tuesday, saw engineers take an engineering model representing Ariane-6 through a simulated launch sequence at the pad complex, at the Kourou spaceport.

Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen were placed in propulsion tanks and calculated down to the ignition of the main Vulcain-2 engine at the bottom of the vehicle’s first stage, or core.

A short, intensive burn will be used to validate the models regarding the distribution of exhaust gases and the expected noise and vibration.

Also confirming the rocket’s ability to abort safely was a computer to detect malfunctions before liftoff.

Ariane-6 will operate in two configurations:

  • One will include two solid fuel boosters to boost medium loads
  • One will have four boosters to harness to lift the heaviest satellites

The main stage is assisted by a second, or upper stage, which will place the payloads in their correct orbits high above the Earth.

This stage, together with the new Vinci engine, has undergone extensive testing at a special facility in Germany.

The most recent test simulated an airplane in which the engine was stopped and restarted, something that could be asked to do up to four times.

The Ariane-6 program is led by the European Space Agency (Esa). The main contractor is ArianeGroup, which works closely with the French National Center for Space Studies (Cnes) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Image caption,

Ariane 6 will operate in two versions to complete the mission range

Arianespace, a subsidiary of the ArianeGroup, is responsible for operating the Kourou spaceport and marketing Ariane-6.

So far, it has an order for 28 launches, 18 of which are for the US technology company Amazon, to send batches of satellites for the internet service called Kuiper.

The first Ariane-6 capable vehicle will be sent to French Guiana in October.

It was sent because the cost of producing Ariane-5 became prohibitive in the face of US competition.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has dominated the launch market over the past decade, with his reusable Falcons under the Ariane-5 price tag.

Ariane-6 aims to reach at least 40% more than Ariane-5 but remains a “disposable” design – a new rocket is needed for each mission.

Big rockets

Europe is moving towards recycling but the technology required will not be in service until the 2030s.

Meanwhile, Mr. Musk introduced larger rockets that promise to reduce launch costs even more.

European research ministers will attend a summit in November, to discuss the future needs of the continent’s innovation market.

The UK was a leading player right at the start of the European launch effort and remains a member of Esa – but its involvement in the Ariane program ended when Ariane-4 was retired in 2003.

The UK’s major satellites, both commercial and government, use Ariane services, however.

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