The European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Monday that its new Ariane 6 launch vehicle successfully completed a short-duration engine test on its launch pad in French Guiana. The test was a crucial step towards the qualification of the rocket, which is expected to make its inaugural launch next year.
Engine ignited for four seconds
The test involved a prototype of the Ariane 6 core stage, which is powered by a Vulcain 2.1 engine that uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. The engine was ignited for four seconds before being shut down and the propellants were drained to their separate underground tanks. The test simulated the final launch sequence and validated the operations needed to run a complete launch campaign.
The test was essential in minimizing the potential for mishaps during the final launch sequence and ensuring its success, said Philippe Baptiste, head of the French space agency CNES, in a statement. CNES, ESA, and ArianeGroup, the prime contractor for Ariane 6, worked together to conduct the test.
Second test planned for October
The short-duration test will be followed by a second, longer test scheduled for October 3, where the Vulcain 2.1 engine will fire for 470 seconds, which is the expected duration of the core stage during a flight. This test will support the final qualification of the core stage for flight.
After the conclusion of the second test, ESA will be ready to set a target launch period for the first Ariane 6 mission. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said that if all goes well with the upcoming tests, the launch will take place “not too late” in 2024.
Ariane 6: A more adaptable and affordable rocket
The Ariane 6 is the successor of the Ariane 5, which was retired in July after 27 years of service and 109 successful launches. The new rocket is designed to be more adaptable and affordable, flying more frequently and at significantly reduced cost.
The Ariane 6 will operate in two configurations: one with two solid-fuel side boosters for lifting medium-sized payloads, and another with four strap-on boosters for lifting the heaviest satellites. The core stage is supplemented with an upper stage that has a new Vinci engine that can be restarted multiple times to place payloads in precise orbits.
The Ariane 6 programme has orders for 28 launches so far, 18 of which are for Amazon’s Kuiper broadband internet service. The first flight-capable Ariane 6 vehicle will be shipped to French Guiana in October.