The Ariane 6 core stage and upper stage are now en route to Europe’s Spaceport — after final assembly at ArianeGroup’s Les Mureaux site and completion of all its functional acceptance tests, the core stage was taken to the French port of Le Havre. The ship then sailed to Bremen, Germany, to load the upper stage – assembled and inspected on-site by ArianeGroup – before setting sail for French Guiana. The two stages are scheduled to arrive at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana this January.
This first Ariane 6 specimen is intended for combined testing of the rocket with its new launch pad, built under the supervision of the French space agency CNES.
When they reach Europe’s Spaceport, these combined tests stages will be integrated horizontally in Ariane 6’s new Launcher Assembly Building. Once the upper stage is integrated with the core stage, Ariane 6 will be brought to a vertical position, then installed inside its mobile gantry, before being fitted with its solid rocket boosters. This is a major change with respect to Ariane 5, because Ariane 6 receives its solid rocket boosters and upper composite (including the fairing and payload) directly on the launch pad, inside the mobile gantry.
For the combined tests, as the boosters do not need to be fired, they will be filled with an inert material, but will reproduce the actual weight and dimensions and enable the testing of the operations involved in docking with the launcher.
Ariane 6 will not lift off during the combined tests, but the main stage will be hot-fire tested and the Vulcain 2.1 engine will be ignited several times on the launch pad, which will serve as a test bench.
The purpose of the combined tests is to test all the interfaces and correct communications between the Ariane 6 launcher and the ground facilities of the new Ariane 6 Launch Base. The flight software and tank filling and drainage operations will also be tested, as they are vital to ensure a smooth launch sequence.
The combined tests between the launcher and the launch pad are scheduled to start in April of 2022.
In parallel with the combined tests in French Guiana, another specimen of the Ariane 6 upper stage — called the Hot Firing Model (HFM) — will be hot-fire tested on the DLR site in Lampoldshausen, Germany. The tests will more specifically address the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit), an innovative system which enhances the versatility of Ariane 6.
“This first meeting between the new European rocket and its launch pad is a decisive step in the development of Ariane 6,” said Franck Huiban, Head of Civil Programs at ArianeGroup. “The teams at ESA, CNES and ArianeGroup are working flat-out to prepare the combined tests in French Guiana, including the core stage hot-firing tests conducted directly on the launch pad. At the same time, they are preparing for the upper stage hot-firing tests to be carried out with DLR at Lampoldshausen site in Germany. The success of these tests will demonstrate the robustness and efficiency of the Ariane 6 launch system. It is essential to anticipate all possible risks and complete all the checks in conditions as close as possible to those of the actual launch, to maximize the chance of success of the Ariane 6 inaugural flight. The stages of the first flight model are already being integrated in our plants in France and Germany.”