ESA rocket enters final stage ahead of 2020 launch

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ESA rocket enters final stage ahead of 2020 launch
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

The European Space Agency (ESA) said on 6 June that its Ariane 6 rocket has entered the final stages of its development ahead of its first commercial launch in 2020 and that the rocket’s launch zone at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is near completion.

In an update published on it’s website, the ESA said hot firing tests of the Vinci engine that will power the rocket’s upper stage are now completed and the firing tests of the Vulcain 2.1 engine that will power the core stage are close to completion at DLR-Institute of Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen, Germany. The P120C solid-fuel boosters that will be attached to the core booster will be tested in early 2020.

new test facility, the P5.2, at the same DLR site, was inaugurated in February and will enable testing of the complete Ariane 6 upper stage.

This upper stage will come from ArianeGroup in Bremen, Germany who are currently focusing on engine integration, final operations and testing. MT Aerospace, also in Bremen, are supplying the fuel tanks.

An ArianeGroup facility in Les Mureaux, France, hosts the largest friction stir welding machines in Europe for producing the Ariane 6 cryogenic tanks for Ariane 6’s core stage. The Aft bay, which secures the Vulcain 2.1 engine to the core stage is in production and being integrated at the same location.

The first qualification model of the P120C strap-on booster configured for Vega-C was static fired in January on the test bench at Europe’s Spaceport.

The second qualification model, configured for Ariane 6, will be tested at the beginning of next year. The 11.5 m long and 3.4 m diameter insulated P120C motor case is made of carbon composite built in one piece by Avio in Colleferro, Italy.

At ArianeGroup in Issac and Le-Haillan, France, new fully robotic production lines have the capability of increasing production by 30% to assemble the rear skirts and build nozzles for the P120C strap-on solid rocket motors. MT Aerospace in Augsburg, Germany, are supplying the rear skirts.

RUAG Space in Switzerland has recently produced the first large half-shell of the fairing for Ariane 6. Built in one piece using carbon fibre, it was cured in an industrial oven instead of an autoclave – a process developed with the help of ESA.

ESA said that the P120C solid rocket motor configured for Ariane 6 will be test fired in Kourou early next year to qualify it for flight. Ariane 6’s upper stage will be test fired at the DLR-Institute of Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen, Germany. A test model Ariane 6 will also start combined tests in Kourou, including a static fire of the core stage engine, the Vulcain 2.1.

Ariane 6 launch base near completion

According to ESA, the Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s Spaceport is on track and near completion. The main structures include the Launch Vehicle Assembly Building, the mobile gantry, and launch pad.

The launch vehicle assembly building used for horizontal integration and preparation of Ariane 6 stages before rollout to the launch pad, is complete and tools are now being installed.

The 90-metre tall metal frame of the mobile gantry is fully constructed and in February cladding started. The mobile gantry houses Ariane 6 until it is retracted before launch. The first rolling test of this 8200-tonne structure will be performed this summer.

The launch pad flame deflectors were installed at the end of April. They will funnel the fiery plumes of Ariane 6 at lift-off into the exhaust tunnels buried deep under the launch table. The nearby water tower has also been installed.

The first four levels of the mast have been mounted and welded and in February the integration started of the fluidic lines that will interface with the launch vehicle. The LH2 and the LOX plants that produce and store the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen needed to fuel the launcher’s engines are complete.

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