And so the process begins …
ArianeGroup‘s announcement indicates that the first complete upper stage of the new Ariane 6 launch vehicle has just left the ArianeGroup plant in Bremen, Germany. The stage is now complete, with its two liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks connected to the new re-ignitable Vinci engine and equipped with all lines, valves, and electronic and hydraulic instrumentation and control systems.
It is now fully operational, following final assembly in October 2020 and successfully undergoing all functional testing (hydraulic, electrical, and avionics) at the ArianeGroup site in Bremen. This stage, called the Hot Firing Model (HFM), will now be transported from Bremen to Lampoldshausen in Baden-Württemberg, for hot-fire testing at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) facility.
The stage will be loaded onto a barge at Bremen’s Neustadt port and travel down the Weser river to the North Sea, then up the Rhine and Neckar rivers to Bad Wimpfen in Baden-Württemberg. From there, it will be taken by road to Lampoldshausen. It will then be installed on the specially constructed test bench inaugurated in 2019.
Once the stage is in place under the gantry on the test site, the campaign will consist of firing up the stage up to four times. Scheduled for the second quarter of 2021, the final tests will qualify the upper stage as “flight ready” as part of the Ariane 6 general system qualification process.
“Completion of this stage for the first hot-fire tests is a major step for Ariane 6, for Germany, and for European space as a whole. This first complete upper stage and its transport to the qualification test site underscores the quality of the work done by ArianeGroup and our industrial partners, as well as our determination and our flexibility,” said Karl-Heinz Servos, COO of ArianeGroup. “Another stage to be used for combined tests of the launch system integrating the launch vehicle and launch pad facilities in Kourou is currently being completed in Bremen, while the first upper stage flight model intended for the Ariane 6 maiden flight is undergoing integration. I would like to thank all our ArianeGroup colleagues and all our European industrial partners for their commitment throughout this difficult period. I also salute DLR, CNES and, of course, the European Space Agency, for their confidence, their essential contribution and their support.”
“Launcher upper stage production is a long tradition in Bremen and is a key feature of the German high-technology landscape. The stages manufactured in the Hanseatic city of Bremen have successfully launched many satellites into orbit and helped make the European Ariane launch vehicle one of the safest in the world. We at the German Space Agency within the DLR German Aerospace Center have always been committed to constantly developing and expanding upper stage expertise in Bremen. The first new Ariane 6 upper stage is now about to leave the ArianeGroup production site and so the next chapter in the European space transport story begins,” said Dr. Walther Pelzer, Head of the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “With the first Ariane 6 upper stage hot-fire testing at the new P5.2 test facility at DLR’s Lampoldshausen site, we are now one more vital step closer to Ariane 6’s maiden flight.”
Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transportation at ESA, said: “We have reached another milestone on the Ariane 6 road to flight. Seeing the elements of Ariane 6 coming together is very exciting. With the upcoming hot-firing tests of the complete upper stage we will gain valuable insights into the technical heart of this new European launch vehicle.”
Thanks to its re-ignitable Vinci engine, the Ariane 6 upper first stage will be ideally suited to complex missions, such as the positioning of satellite constellation clusters.
Of the 550 highly qualified employees currently working at the ArianeGroup site in Bremen, about 100 are producing components for Ariane 6, in a building equipped with the very latest industry 4.0 manufacturing process and integration technologies. This ensures optimized production in terms of cost, efficiency, and respect for the environment. In addition to the HFM delivered today, two further upper stages are being integrated: one for combined launcher/launch pad tests in Kourou, the Combined Test Model (CTM), and the other for the Ariane 6 maiden flight, the Flight Model 1 (FM1). The launch pad facilities are currently being built by CNES (the French Space Agency), while in ArianeGroup’s Les Mureaux plant (France) the core stage, itself also intended for combined tests (another part of the CTM) is also being integrated, along with the maiden flight core stage (FM1).
Ariane 6 is a program managed and funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). As industrial prime contractor and design authority for the launcher, ArianeGroup is responsible for its development and production with its industrial partners, as well as for operation through its subsidiary Arianespace. The French space agency CNES is responsible for the construction of the launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana.