ESA Space Transportation Program (Ariane 6, Vega, Prometheus)
It is more than 50 years since a group of European governments decided that Europe needed guaranteed and autonomous access to space, and that it made sense to combine their efforts to achieve this goal. 1)
Thanks to their foresight, Europe has developed a range of launchers and its own base in French Guiana for European launches. To have access to space is the first enabling element in the utilization of space and the many benefits this brings.
Space utilization and exploration yields greater knowledge of our Solar System, enables better navigation and telecommunication systems, and provides the data to monitor our environment. All this is only possible because we have the launchers capable of placing satellites accurately into space.
The benefits of space exploration have expanded in ways that could not have been envisaged even 30 years ago. Space applications will continue to grow, which is why guaranteed access to space now, and in the future, is so important.
The EU (European Union) and ESA recognize the growing importance of space and signed a joint declaration on 26 October 2016 on their "Shared Vision and Goals for the Future of Europe in Space".
This demonstrates the importance both institutions attribute to close and integrated cooperation with the shared ambition that Europe remains a world-class actor in space and a partner of choice internationally.
One enduring goal is to ensure European autonomy in accessing and using space in a safe and secure environment, by consolidating and protecting its infrastructures.
Europe offers a range of launchers to meet institutional and commercial needs, and ensures that Europe’s Spaceport remains a byword for excellence and reliability.
Building for the future: ESA is able to build on its years of experience to:
• ensure availability and foster the competitiveness and reliability of Ariane, Vega and Soyuz from Europe’s Spaceport;
• maintain the ground infrastructure needed for launches;
• foster a European institutional market for Ariane and Vega;
• ensure that Europe can respond to evolving market demands by developing Ariane 6 and Vega C and their ground infrastructures;
• support European industry, technology and research capabilities by improving industrial competitiveness and promoting innovation;
• create employment;
• prepare a future for Europe to better serve institutional and commercial markets by focusing on innovative technologies, investigating future launcher evolutions, demonstrating technical capabilities and preparing routine access to and return from space.
Ariane 6 : A next-generation launcher for Europe
ESA (European Space Agency) and European industry are currently developing a new-generation launcher: Ariane 6. This follows the decision taken at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in December 2014, to maintain Europe’s leadership in the fast-changing commercial launch service market while responding to the needs of European institutional missions. 2)
This move is associated with a change in the governance of the European launcher sector, based on a sharing of responsibility, cost and risk by ESA and industry. The participating states are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Ariane 6 objectives and main missions:
The overarching aim of Ariane 6 is to provide guaranteed access to space for Europe at a competitive price without requiring public sector support for exploitation. Different concepts have been examined for Ariane 6 such as single- and dual-payloads, solid or cryogenic propulsion for the main stage, and the number of stages (three or more), all to cover a wide range of missions:
• GEO, either directly or through intermediate orbits, in particular GTO and LEO,
• Polar/SSO (Sun Synchronous Orbit),
• MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) or MTO (Mars Transfer Orbit),
The targeted payload performance of Ariane 6 is over 4.5 t for polar/Sun-synchronous orbit missions at 800 km altitude and the injection of two first-generation Galileo satellites. Ariane 6 can loft a payload mass of 4.5–10.5 tonnes in equivalent geostationary transfer orbit.
The exploitation cost of the Ariane 6 launch system is its key driver. Launch service costs will be halved, while maintaining reliability by reusing the trusted engines of Ariane 5. The first flight is scheduled for 2020.
Ariane 6 has a ‘PHH’ configuration, indicating the sequence of stages: a first stage using strap-on boosters based on solid propulsion (P) and a second and third stage using cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen propulsion (H).
Ariane 6 provides a modular architecture using either two boosters (Ariane 62) or four boosters (Ariane 64), depending on the required performance. Two or four P120 solid-propellant boosters will be common with Vega-C, an evolution of the current Vega launcher.
The main stage containing liquid oxygen and hydrogen is based around the Vulcain 2 engine of Ariane 5. The upper stage of Ariane 6 builds on developments for the Adapted Ariane 5 ME, and cryogenic propulsion using the Vinci engine. It will be restartable and have direct deorbiting features to mitigate space debris.
The main characteristics of the Ariane 6 concept are:
• The total length of the vehicle is about 62 m,
• The cryogenic main stage holds about 150 tons of propellants, the upper stage holds about 30 t,
• The external diameter of the cryogenic main stage and upper stages including the part that connects the fairing is about 5.4 m.
ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall launch system, industry is building the rocket with ArianeGroup as prime contractor and design authority. An industrial cooperation agreement has been signed between ArianeGroup and Avio for the P120C solid motor.
Figure 1: Artist's rendition of the two configurations of Ariane 6 using two boosters, A62 (left) or four boosters A64 (right), image credit: ESA, David Ducros, 2017
Figure 2: Ariane 6 PPH cutaway drawing (image credit: Wikipedia, SkywalkerPL)
The industrial prime contractors, CNES and ArianeGroup, who are responsible for the launch base and launcher respectively, have jointly agreed on developing a common family of test and control systems that will be used in Europe and French Guiana during the build, verification, integration and launch of Ariane 6.
The Ariane 6 launcher will provide Arianespace with new levels of efficiency and flexibility to meet customers’ launch services needs across a full range of commercial and institutional missions. To ensure Arianespace’s continued competitiveness, this next-generation launcher has been conceived for reduced production costs and design-to-build lead times, all while maintaining the quality and reliability that have made Ariane 5 an industry leader. 3)
Ariane 6 features a modular configuration based on core stages powered by lower and upper liquid propellant modules, which that are supplemented by either two or four strap-on solid rocket motors. Enhancing Ariane 6’s competitiveness is the series production of its rocket engines and a technology-sharing approach with Arianespace’s Vega C – particularly this lightweight launcher’s P120 engine that also will be used in Ariane 6’s solid rocket motors.
ArianeGroup, formerly Airbus Safran Launchers, is prime contractor and design authority for Ariane 6, while ESA oversees procurement and architecture of the overall launch system. On 12 August 2015, ESA appointed Airbus Safran Launchers as principal contractor with the new development of the Ariane 6. On 1 July 2017, Airbus Safran Launchers changed its corporate name to ArianeGroup.
The industrial organization put into place for building Ariane 6 aims for maximum efficiency throughout the production cycle, up to delivery to the launch pad where, for greater flexibility, the payload is assembled on the launcher. The creation of European clusters of excellence allows to work with industrial partners via an extended enterprise approach, in order to standardise launcher methods and tools. The contribution of new industrial processes and innovative manufacturing technologies (3D printing, friction-stir welding, laser surface treatment, etc.), combined with a product lifecycle management system that meets the latest standards, helps optimize industrial level production. 4)
The overall goal is to achieve production costs 40 to 50% lower than those of Ariane 5 in order to be competitive in the face of new market demands. With the aim of ensuring continuity of independent European access to space, Ariane 6 should be making its first launch in 2020 and will be fully operational as of 2023, offering a level of reliability equivalent to that of Ariane 5.
Figure 3: At Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, everything is being prepared to accommodate Europe’s newest launcher, Ariane 6 (video credit: ESA)
Development status of the Ariane 6 / Vega-C Program
• January 12, 2021: Tour the Ariane 6 launch complex at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. 5)
- The 8200 ton 90 meter-high mobile gantry has platforms to enable engineers to access the vehicle for integration of the stages. This steel structure protects Ariane 6 before launch and is rolled back prior to liftoff.
- At the entrance of the gantry are two mockup Ariane 6 P120C rocket boosters. These are representative of the real boosters, having the same size and mass but filled with water instead of solid propellant and used in mechanical tests.
- The hydrogen and oxygen storage facilities are close by. Underground, engineers are preparing the launch support systems.
- A pumping station at the reservoir will supply the water to quell the exhaust at liftoff.
Figure 4: Tour the Ariane 6 launch complex at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (video credit: CNES/ESA)
• November 6, 2020: Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, covers 700 km2 and comprises the launch range, three operational launch complexes with another under development for Ariane 6, and propellant manufacturing plants. Together they draw up to 20% of the country’s energy supplies. 6)
- About half the power at the base is used to cool buildings while energy-intensive solid and liquid propellant processes take up most of the rest. The yearly bill is several million euros.
- ESA with France’s CNES space agency, plan to cut costs by reducing the reliance on the French Guiana grid and transitioning to ‘green’ and renewable energy sources on site. These new energy sources are intended to provide 90% of the electricity consumed at the base by end-2025. On achieving this, Europe’s Spaceport would be well in advance of COP21 (Conference of the Parties) objectives (Paris Climate Conference) to combat climate change.
- The energy transition plan is based on two major pillars: the introduction of solar fields (up to 10 MW peak) delivering the first electron by the start of 2023, followed by two biomass units the same year with the intention of utilizing the waste heat for cooling buildings. This mix could save about 50 GWh per year, reducing the carbon footprint by about 45 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent.
- These development plans were approved at Space19+. They reflect the approach of ESA and CNES to the global urgency to care for our planet.
- ESA aims to increase its contribution to the sustainable development of our society, avoid negative impacts on the environment and maximize positives ones.
- “Solar panels would in the first instance, allow a technology learning curve. Further extending the number of panels would bring additional power to the Spaceport to supplant an aging French Guiana grid by 100% green energy,” explained Teddy Peponnet, CSG Renewable NRJ transition project manager at the Spaceport.
Figure 5: Solar panels (100% green energy) for Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (image credit: ESA)
- “In the future, solar energy would be used to recharge fuel cells at the Spaceport. Biomass units, installed and operated by a third party, would also supplement the French Guiana grid. A workforce of 250 will work on the biomass overall cycle, boosting local employment.”
- The principle of a biomass power plant consists of using dead wood to produce bio-gas in gasification chambers and obtain electricity via a co-generation process – the carbon dioxide produced is offset by the crop’s sequestering of carbon dioxide from the air. About 75% of the energy contained in the fuel is dissipated as heat, made use of via absorption groups to feed the air conditioning system of the Spaceport.
Figure 6: Artist's view of the biomass plant planned at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (image credit: ESA)
- In addition to the ‘greening’ actions adopted by ESA and CNES, industrial operators are playing a major role as well. This summer, industry supported by ESA, implemented specific energy saving memorandums of understanding with EDF SEI, the local energy provider. These protocols enable them to collect energy rebates which will be reinvested for greater launchers competitiveness and carbon footprint improvements on site.
- ESA, CNES and industrial operators are creating a new chapter in the history of Europe’s Spaceport. Together they are using renewable energy as a key component in launchers competitiveness while serving the local community and ultimately French Guiana as a whole.
• October 29, 2020: Vega-C and Ariane 6 are being developed by ESA to assure Europe’s independent access to space. The maiden flight for Vega-C is planned to take place in June 2021, that for Ariane 6 for the second quarter of 2022. 7)
- Solid progress is being made on both Vega-C and Ariane 6 development programs. Since March, some technical events and the COVID-19 pandemic have both impacted the progress of activities. Uncertainty from COVID-19 still persists globally to date.
- Vega-C is a more powerful and versatile version of the Vega launch vehicle currently operating at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Vega-C’s maiden flight is planned for June 2021.
- Vega was on track for its return to flight, after the July 2019 failure, with its mission (VV16) in March 2020, but Europe’s Spaceport had to be closed due to COVID-19 safety measures. The VV16 launch campaign resumed in May but several further launch attempts were halted due to unfavorable weather. Vega’s return to flight, with the new SSMS dispenser carrying 53 satellites, was successfully launched on 2 September.
- Between February and September no activities for the preparation of Vega-C were possible in the Vega mobile gantry while it housed the P80 solid rocket motor in readiness for flight VV16, due to safety constraints.
- The qualification at system and subsystems level is currently under finalization.
- As from October, all the new solid motors for Vega-C have completed qualification testing. The Zefiro-40 solid rocket motor for Vega-C completed qualification tests in 2019. The final test of the P120C took place successfully on 7 October.
- Two Vega flights, VV17 and VV18, are planned before Vega-C. Activities for the modification of the mobile gantry for Vega-C, such as modifications of the fluids networks as well as connection and installation of the new control bench for Vega-C, will have to start after VV18 now planned early February.
- Vega-C maiden flight is planned for June 2021.
- Vega-C is a project managed and funded by the European Space Agency. Avio is the industrial prime contractor. Arianespace commercializes Vega-C.
- ESA, CNES and ArianeGroup have jointly established a consolidated reference planning for Ariane 6 development and are working as an integrated team in their respective roles to make it happen. This schedule is based on analysis of recent achievements, remaining critical milestones and the impact on the program caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- With the successful third static fire test of the P120C solid rocket motor on 7 October, all the propulsion elements of the launcher system have completed their qualification tests.
- At Europe’s Spaceport, activities for the finalization of the Ariane 6 launch base are progressing. First integration testing with fullscale ‘mock-ups’ of the P120C strap-on booster and of Ariane 6’s central core took place in the new mobile gantry. Testing of the cryogenic arms that link the launch pad and the launch vehicle are also ongoing at Fos-sur-Mer in France, before shipping to French Guiana.
- ArianeGroup is completing the challenging development and qualification of the Ariane 6 Auxiliary Power Unit for the upper stage. This device will allow Europe to offer additional capabilities in satellite deployment for the satellite constellation market.
- The first Ariane 6 upper stage has been assembled in Bremen, Germany. Coupling the launcher’s tanks with the equipped engine bay of the re-ignitable Vinci engine for the first time. The upper stage is currently undergoing mechanical, fluid and electrical tests, before leaving for further tests at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Lampoldshausen facilities in Germany.
- There, the complete stage will be hot fire tested on a new test bench specially developed by DLR for the Ariane 6 upper stage. The Ariane 6 upper stage static fire tests are planned to start in the second quarter of 2021.
- In parallel, the first Ariane 6 core stage and the second Ariane 6 upper stage are under preparation. These specimen will be shipped to Europe’s Spaceport from Les Mureaux (France) and Bremen (Germany) respectively, for the combined tests campaign.
- In the third quarter of 2021, the Ariane 6 launch base will be handed over from CNES to ESA. At this point the Ariane 6 combined tests campaign can start. These series of tests will bring the launch vehicle and launch base together for the first time for integrated tests of multiple systems. This will include a static fire test of Ariane 6 while standing on the launch pad for the first time.
- Following the successful combined test campaign and Ground qualification review of the launch system, the first launch campaign, with the integration of the maiden flight hardware, will start.
- When all these steps are successfully completed Ariane 6 will be in a position to perform its maiden flight in the second quarter of 2022.
- Ariane 6 is a project managed and funded by the European Space Agency. ArianeGroup is design authority and industrial prime contractor for the launcher system. The French space agency CNES is prime contractor for the development of the Ariane 6 launch base at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. Arianespace commercializes Ariane 6.
Impact of COVID-19
- The measures taken to control the pandemic have seriously impacted the progress of activities both in Europe and at Europe’s Spaceport since March 2020, including as a result of social distancing, site lockdowns and reduced capacity at facilities, travel restrictions, quarantines and confinement measures.
- This has considerably slowed all working and operational processes for prime contractors and their respective subcontractors around 13 European countries. Ongoing pandemic effects continue to disrupt on-going development and operations.
- “We constantly and closely monitor the COVID-19 impact and technical challenges on our ongoing space transportation developments and operations. Together with our contractual partners and participating States, ESA continues to pull together towards our common priority goals which are the maiden flights of Vega-C and Ariane 6,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transportation at ESA.
- The first stage P120C, second stage Zefiro-40 and the third stage Zefiro-9 are all fueled by solid propellant. These motors, together with the AVUM+ liquid propulsion upper module, will allow Vega-C to lift payloads of up to 2300 kg to a reference 700 km altitude in polar orbit.
- The P120C first stage will burn for 130 s using 142 t of fuel to deliver a liftoff thrust of about 4500 kN. This will take Vega-C to an altitude of about 60 km in the first phase of flight before the second stage takes over.
- Europropulsion, owned jointly by Avio and ArianeGroup, built three P120C models for test. One development and two qualification models have all been static fired successfully at Europe’s Spaceport.
Figure 7: Industry cooperation to build Vega-C. Participating States in Vega-C development are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (image credit: ESA)
- The first qualification model, in the Vega-C configuration, was hot fired in January 2019. The second qualification model, in the Ariane 6 configuration, was hot fired on 7 October. Using the P120C on two launch vehicles has saved on development costs and benefitted economies of scale and created an opportunity for Europe to scale up production.
- Vega-C’s second stage, powered by the new Zefiro-40 contains about 36 t of solid propellant.
- The Zefiro-40, developed and manufactured by Avio in their Colleferro factory in Italy, was static fired on 8 March 2018 and then again on 10 May 2019 at test facilities in Sardinia.
Figure 8: Zefiro-40 DM on test bench. The solid-fuel based Zefiro-40 will be the second stage motor of Europe's new-generation Vega-C launch vehicle. The Zefiro-40 development motor, developed and manufactured by Avio in their Colleferro factory, was installed on the horizontal test bench and static fired on 8 March 2018, in Sardinia. The resulting test data will guide the qualification and flight model design (image credit: ESA)
- During a burn time of 92 seconds the Zefiro-40 generates an average thrust of 1300 kN which is four times greater than that of an engine of a modern passenger aircraft. This propels Vega-C to an altitude of about 123 km.
- The Zefiro-9 will power Vega-C’s third stage. It is an advanced version with a new igniter with respect to the one used on the Vega launch vehicle currently operating at Europe’s Spaceport.
- On 1 October, the Zefiro-9 seated on the test bench in Cagliari, Sardinia performed its final qualification hot firing. It burned for 120 s using 10 t of solid propellant. The Zefiro-9 will take Vega-C to an altitude of about 190 km.
- “Industry is working very hard and very closely with ESA to complete the end of the qualification program for Vega-C. Together we are overcoming the obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and we are committed to complete all activities planned for the preparation of the Vega-C maiden flight,” commented Giorgio Tumino, Head of Vega-C development and Chief Technical Advisor for Space Transportation at ESA.
• October 15, 2020: All three engines developed to power Europe’s future Ariane 6 rocket have completed extensive tests – the P120C solid rocket motor for the boosters, the Vulcain 2.1 engine for the core stage and the Vinci for the upper stage. 9)
- Ariane 6 in the four-booster version will stand 63m tall, with a mass of 900 tons and have the liftoff power equivalent to 12 Airbus A380 engines roaring at takeoff.
P120C – Europe’s new solid propulsion workhorse
- Two or four P120Cs, depending on the configuration, will be strapped onto Ariane 6’s core stage as boosters for liftoff.
- The P120C is Europe’s new solid propulsion workhorse. The ‘C’ stands for ‘common’ as P120C will be used on both ESA-developed launcher systems – Vega-C as well as Ariane 6. It has been developed by Europropulsion, which is owned jointly by Avio and ArianeGroup.
- Rocket motors that contain solid fuel burn until the fuel is depleted. Simple and powerful, this form of propulsion is often an operations low-cost option for raw power, used most often at the liftoff stage. Each P120C motor provides about 4500 kN of thrust.
- P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter with a mass of 11 tons. Its 25 cm thick casing is made using a carbon composite material and it is built in one segment at Avio’s Colleferro rocket factory in Italy. ArianeGroup in France developed the advanced P120C nozzle, while Nammo in Norway provided the igniter. Efficient production methods have shortened production cycles and optimized costs.
- Three models of the P120C have completed hot firings at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana: the development model (DM1) in July 2018, the first qualification model (QM1) in January 2019 – the version which will be used on Vega-C’s maiden flight, and most recently the qualification model (QM2) in October 2020 for use on the maiden flight of Ariane 6. The production of the motor components for the Vega-C flight model is almost complete.
- The final step is to demonstrate that new production facilities are fully up and running to meet demand.
Vulcain 2.1 – core stage engine
- Ariane 6’s core stage cryogenic engine, the Vulcain 2.1, is fueled by liquid oxygen–hydrogen. It delivers 1371 kN of thrust in vacuum to propel Ariane 6 in the first eight minutes of flight, up to an altitude of 200 km. It has the same mass as an Airbus A318 jet engine but provides more than 10 times the power.
- The Vulcain 2.1 features a 3D-printed gas generator, a redesigned, simplified nozzle and a combustion chamber that can be ignited from the ground via the bottom of the nozzle instead of by pyrotechnic devices inside the motor, reducing the cost and mass.
- Expensive liquid helium is no longer needed as it was for Vulcain 2.0 because heated oxygen in the exhaust lines now pressurizes the oxygen tank.
- The final qualification static firing test of Vulcain 2.1 in July 2019 in Lampoldshausen confirmed the functional and mechanical behavior of this engine while upcoming combined tests will qualify Ariane 6 subsystems at stage and launcher level.
Figure 9: Vulcain 2.1 static firing test. The main stage Vulcain 2.1 engine will deliver 135 t of thrust to propel Ariane 6 in the first eight minutes of flight up to an altitude of 200 km. A review in September 2019 marked the culmination of two Vulcain static firing test campaigns over 15 months on two demonstration models in test facilities at the DLR German Aerospace Center test facility in Lampoldshausen. The final qualification static firing test of Vulcain 2.1 in July lasted almost 11 minutes (655 seconds). This completed a total of 13,798 seconds of operation, or nearly four hours with a controlled engine, using Ariane 6 flight actuators to gimbal the engine. The engine will be refurbished for dynamic and vibration tests. Combined tests using a fully representative main stage at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, will finally qualify the Ariane 6 core stage for flight (image credit: ArianeGroup)
Vinci – reignitable upper stage engine
- Vinci is Europe’s first expander cycle engine and will power Ariane 6’s upper stage. It is fueled by liquid oxygen–hydrogen and can be reignited up to five times. This increases the operational flexibility of Ariane 6 and ensures that the engine safely deorbits at the end of the mission.
Figure 10: Vinci engine qualified in tests. Vinci is the re-ignitable engine of the upper stage that increases the operational flexibility of Ariane 6 and ensures that the engine safely deorbits at the end of the mission. This engine was successfully tested more than 140 times and reignited multiple times in succession in near vacuum to complete its qualification (image credit: ArianeGroup)
- The qualifying tests for the Vinci were completed in October 2018. This engine was successfully tested more than 140 times and reignited multiple times in succession in near vacuum to complete its qualification bringing a total of more than 14 hours of operation.
- The Vinci engine will be integrated with the complete Ariane 6 upper stage at ArianeGroup facilities in Bremen, Germany. It will then be transported to the DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen where the Ariane 6 upper stage will experience a simulated launch inside their new P5.2 facility.
- “ESA with European industry have created three new engines to grow Europe’s independent access to space. We have increased performance, expanded our flexibility and become even more competitive. With all engine qualifications tests completed, we will now focus on remaining final phase activities for Ariane 6 and Vega-C maiden flights,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.
Figure 11: P5.2 test stand. On 26 February 2019, the DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen inaugurated a new test facility that simulates launch for the complete Ariane 6 upper stage (image credit: DLR)
• October 8, 2020: P120C motor configured for Ariane 6 is test fired. 10)
Figure 12: The second qualification model of the P120C solid rocket motor, configured for Ariane 6, completed its hot firing on 7 October 2020 in a final test to prove its readiness for flight (video credit: ESA/CNES)
- Depending on the configuration, two or four P120C motors, developed in Europe, will be strapped onto the sides of the future Ariane 6 launch vehicle as boosters for liftoff. The P120C will also be used as the first stage of Vega-C.
- After it was fully loaded with 142 tons of fuel, the 13.5 m long and 3.4 m diameter motor was ignited to simulate liftoff and the first phase of flight.
- The motor burned for 130 seconds and delivered a maximum thrust of about 4500 kN. The test was performed at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, and was completed with no anomalies.
• May 29, 2020: Workers are returning to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana to resume preparations for Vega and Ariane 5 launches. Construction of the new Ariane 6 launch pad has also restarted. 11)
- COVID-19 lockdown measures introduced in March meant that all but safety-critical operations were suspended at the Spaceport and the vast site had to be secured. Strict new safety and hygiene procedures have now been introduced. Launch teams returning from mainland Europe will spend two weeks in quarantine.
- Vega is due to return to flight this summer on its first rideshare mission dedicated to small satellites using a new dispenser called the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS).
Figure 13: A-roll contains a new interview with ESA’s Director of Space Transportation, Daniel Neuenschwander, March 2020 drone video of the Ariane 6 launch pad, recently shot phone footage of COVID-19 safety measures and a rare tour underground of the new Ariane 6 launch facilities. B-roll also contains further smartphone footage of the Spaceport and additional drone and helicopter footage of the Kourou facilities (video credit: ESA)
• March 4, 2020: The 30-m high four-stage Vega is Europe’s launcher for smaller satellites. Its topmost AVUM (Attitude Vernier Upper Module) hosts Vega’s avionics ‘brain’, overseeing the overall flight of the launcher. Then, once it separates from the third stage, the reignitable AVUM flies like a spacecraft in its own right to deploy its various payloads into their set orbits, achieving meter-scale precision. 12)
- ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory, based at ESTEC in the Netherlands, played a trouble-shooting role ahead of the first Vega launch back in 2012, after one of these tanks failed to perform adequately during a ‘burst test’ – involving deliberately overpressurizing it. Following forensic scrutiny the Lab team discovered that weld quality was the culprit.
- They produced a full metallurgical analysis of the tank welds, and came up with new protocols to improve their microstructure – the improved tanks withstanding more than twice their intended operating pressures.
- The sixteenth Vega flight is due later this month. Flight VV16 will carry an innovative ‘rideshare’ payload of multiple small satellites and CubeSats.
Figure 14: This titanium propellant tank, on show in the laboratory corridor of ESA’s technical heart, comes from Europe’s Vega launcher – one of four serving its AVUM upper stage (image credit: ESA–SJM Photography)
• February 4, 2020: Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana is gearing up for the arrival of Ariane 6, Europe’s next-generation launch vehicle. This aerial view taken in January 2020 shows the main elements of the new launch complex. 13)
Figure 15: Ariane 6 launch zone at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou (image credit: CNES/ESA/Sentinel)
- The 8200 ton 90 meter-high mobile gantry will house Ariane 6 before launch. First in July then again in December 2019, the gantry was rolled along its rails to its prelaunch position over the launch pad. Platforms inside the gantry will allow engineers access to the rocket for integration and maintenance. The mobile gantry is retracted before launch.
- Flame trenches on either side of the gantry will funnel the exhaust at liftoff.
- Four lightning masts have been erected around the launch pad to protect against lightning strikes.
- The water tower pictured left of the mobile gantry will provide the water that will quell the fiery plumes at liftoff.
- The assembly building, on the right (background), is 20 m tall, 112 m long and 41 m wide and is located 1 km away from the launch pad. This is used for Ariane 6's horizontal preparation and integration before rollout to the launch zone.
• January 28, 2020: Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana is almost ready for Ariane 6. Take a tour of the launch complex and its various facilities filmed in January 2020. 14)
Figure 16: The 8200 ton 90 meter-high mobile gantry has been rolled over the launch pad with the help of bogies that move it along rails. Inside stand two mock-ups of the P120C boosters flanked on either side by work platforms that will enable engineers to access the launch vehicle. - Delve deep under the launch table structure to see engineers working on the launch support systems. -Outside, tour past the water tower that will provide the water to quell the fiery plumes at liftoff. Then, view the inside of the assembly building showing a mock-up of the Ariane 6 core stage (video credit: CNES/ESA)
• ESA and partners celebrate 40 years of Ariane – a launch vehicle operating in the international space arena, and a symbol of cooperation and innovation that ensures independent access to space for Europe. 15)
- On 24 December 1979, the first Ariane 1 was launched from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Launch L01 carried CAT-1, or Technological Capsule 1, a small satellite used to provide data on the launch characteristics of the new rocket and therefore only powered for eight orbits.
- Ariane 1 was the first launch vehicle to be developed with the primary purpose of sending commercial satellites into geostationary orbit. It was designed mainly to deploy two satellites per mission, thus reducing costs.
- From this first flight, Ariane evolved into a highly reliable rocket boosted by the fast-growing demand for commercial space launches in the 1980s. Operated by Arianespace, Ariane claimed over half the satellite market in this period.
- Altogether, Ariane 1, 2 and 3 launched 28 times between 1979 and 1989, placing a total of 38 satellites in orbit.
- Ariane 4 entered service in 1988 and made 113 successful launches. Its last was on 15 February 2003. It featured an elongated first stage and strap-on liquid and solid-fuel boosters providing more thrust at liftoff. For this version of Ariane, a lighter Sylda fairing structure was introduced. The Sylda allows two payloads to be stacked one on top of the other.
Figure 17: Artist's rendition of the Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 launchers (image credit: ESA, D. Ducros)
- Ariane 5 is the result of continual investment in new technology, a wider, heavier and shorter design, and new production methods. This has extended Ariane's benchmark lifting capability from its initial 1850 kg to geostationary orbit, to today’s dual payload record of 10,865 kg to geostationary orbit with an Ariane 5 ECA on 2 June 2017.
- Ariane 5’s ES was used for various missions, such as the Automated Transfer Vehicle in low orbit and Galileo in medium orbit. It was retired from service on 25 July 2018.
- Europe's Spaceport lies just above the equator in South America, and hosts facilities for Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launchers.
Figure 18: The protective fairing is lowered over the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) Edoardo Amaldi. With the fairing in place, the spacecraft was lowered on to the Ariane rocket that launched it to the International Space Station. ESA’s third automated space freighter is carrying about two tons of dry cargo, 285 kg of water and more than three tons of propellants to the International Space Station (ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Video du CSG - P. Baudon)
- Continued updates to the Spaceport’s facilities have kept up with the requirements of each new launch vehicle. The pad used by Ariane 1, 2 and 3 was later repurposed for Vega in 2012 and is currently being modified to accommodate the upcoming more powerful Vega-C successor.
- ESA is currently preparing for the next decade in space transportation. Part of this involves the transition from Ariane 5 to the new modular Ariane 6 for which a dedicated launch site has been built.
- Ariane 6 has two versions, Ariane 62 with two strap-on boosters and Ariane 64 with four, for more power.
- The new Ariane design is intended to serve the diverse needs of a wide range of customers offering new payload dispensers for a variety of configurations while dramatically decreasing the cost of launches compared to Ariane 5.
- Changes in the way in which Ariane 6 is assembled, paired with new manufacturing techniques, is set to speed up the turn around time, allowing more Ariane launches than ever before.
- Europe can celebrate Ariane’s history and look forward to building on its successes through innovation and an extreme design-to-cost approach to maintain its lead in a fiercely competitive launch services market.
• November 26, 2019: Vega-C, due for its first flight next year, is a more powerful version of the current Vega launcher aimed at the thriving small satellite market. Three of its four stages will use solid-propellant motors while its AVUM+ fourth stage – the model of which is seen here attached to the fairing – employs liquid propellant, making it reignitable. 16)
- The two halves of the fairing weigh in at 450 kg each, made of carbon fibre sandwich panels filled with aluminum honeycomb. They have the vital function of safeguarding launcher payloads during the early part of the launch, not just from atmospheric turbulence but also the high noise levels of the crucial first few seconds after take-off, when sound waves bounce off the ground towards the fairing.
- One wall of the LEAF chamber – which stands 11 m wide by 9 m deep and 16.4 m high – incorporates a set of enormous sound horns. Nitrogen shot through the horns can produce a range of noise up to more than 154 decibels, like standing close to multiple jets taking off. LEAF is part of ESA’s ESTEC Test Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
- Two sets of test campaigns allow engineers to collect data on the sound levels the upper stage and payload adapter will experience, once with the fairing and once without. Microphones have been placed around and inside the fairing for these qualification-level tests.
- The fairing will then return to its manufacturer, Ruag Space in Switzerland, where engineers will carry out the remaining qualification tests on this flight hardware, then fit the pyrotechnic cords that will separate the fairing once Vega-C leaves the atmosphere.
Figure 19: The 10-m high fairing of Europe’s inaugural Vega-C launcher atop a structural model of its upper stage, being prepared for acoustic testing within ESA’s Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF) – which is able to simulate the extreme noise of a rocket take-off (image credit: ESA)
- Vega-C’s inaugural flight is scheduled for mid-2020, carrying the Italian Space Agency’s LARES-2 satellite, a large retroreflector for the study of general relativity related to Earth’s gravitational field.
• November 26, 2019: The first test models of Ariane 6 are being manufactured while Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is preparing to test the launch vehicle and all systems involved with launch. 17)
- Under ESA’s responsibility, upcoming tests will show that the launch complex is ready for Ariane 6, and prove the launch system interfaces and performances for launch.
• November 20, 2019: Today, ESA, Arianespace, and respective industrial prime contractors ArianeGroup and Avio signed protocols on the Launchers Exploitation Phase for Ariane 6 and Vega-C. 18)
- With development of Ariane 6 and Vega-C now in the final phase, these protocols will govern the long-lasting exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C. They cover aspects related to technical and industrial responsibilities in the wide range of areas pertaining to operations such as compliance with high-level requirements over the lifetime of both launchers, launch authorization, configuration management, and maintenance of various assets.
- Ariane 6 and Vega-C are of primary importance in guaranteeing access to space for public European missions. ESA has adopted for its missions, and recommended to other European institutional customers, a set of guiding principles for an effective and complementary exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C, based on the respective launcher performances.
Figure 20: On 20 November 2019, the Vega-C protocol was signed at ESA Headquarters in Paris, France by Daniel Neuenschwander (center), ESA Director of Space Transportation; Stéphane Israel (left), CEO at Arianespace; and Giulio Ranzo (right), CEO at Avio. This protocol will govern the long-lasting exploitation of Vega-C. It covers aspects related to technical and industrial responsibilities in the wide range of areas pertaining to operations such as compliance with high-level requirements over the lifetime of both launchers, launch authorization, configuration management, and maintenance of various assets (image credit: ESA)
- “The signature of these protocols represents an important step forward. They consolidate the industrial responsibilities for the upcoming operations of Ariane 6 and Vega-C and ensure their mutually beneficial exploitation,” added Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Space Transportation.
- Space capacities are strategically important to civil, commercial, security and defence-related policy objectives. Space is an enabler for responding to societal challenges and for creating jobs and stimulating growth. Europe’s freedom of action in space is conditional to autonomy in accessing space.
• October 22, 2019: Satellites are built to live in the harsh environment of space but engineers must also factor in the rigors of the journey there. ESA has helped RUAG Space Switzerland to develop new rocket fairings that offer a smoother quieter ride to space. 19)
- RUAG manufactures fairings for Europe’s Ariane and Vega launchers and has recently shown how a micro-perforation of the facesheet of the panels of the fairing can reduce noise and vibrations, and how a new hinge and actuation system could reduce the shock of separating the fairing from the launch vehicle when it reaches space.
- “Current technology relies on a simple, compact and highly dependable system that sheds the protective fairing at about three minutes into the flight at an altitude of some 100 km, which is when the rocket enters space,” explained Jorgen Bru, ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program Technology Manager.
- “Typically two pyrotechnic mechanisms detonate to burst hinges open allowing the fairing half shells to safely separate and twist away from the payload stowed inside. It all happens in a split second and is a highly precise, synchronized event.”
Figure 21: New low-shock fairing separation and jettison (image credit: ESA, RUAG)
- These pyrotechnic devices are jettisoned with the fairing. They deliver a powerful force while being relatively light and compact, and are proven technology.
- “However, when these pyrotechnic devices are activated, it creates a strong shock effect which is transferred to the launcher and its payload. Satellites are designed to withstand this but companies are now requesting more comfort,” added Jorgen.
- Pyrotechnic systems require thorough testing before being qualified for flight, which is intense, expensive and requires vacuum conditions. A major benefit of RUAG’s replacement low-shock separation and jettison system is that no expensive vacuum chamber is needed for tests because separation relies on a slightly slower non-pyrotechnic process making the friction with air in ground testing much less significant.
- RUAG can achieve the same results using a set of pre-loaded hinges and pneumatic actuators combined with a passive jettison system that pushes the parts away once the separation systems are actuated.
- “This new separation and jettison system, based on hinge and actuator, reduces shock and increases payload comfort during the separation event,” added Alberto Sánchez Cebrian, Project Manager at RUAG.
- Each separation system is discrete. This modular approach reduces development costs as parts can be improved or replaced without affecting the whole system. Testing is simpler and the mechanism requires no synchronization either.
- Tests were carried out on a 2.6 m Vega fairing but the new system is scalable for fairings of Europe’s heavy launcher Ariane.
Figure 22: Hinge and actuator (image credit: ESA, RUAG)
- Alongside the separation tests, modelling of a built in noise-reducing perforated insulation layer within the fairing’s sandwich panels provided a promising noise reduction solution with no increase in mass or volume.
- Significant noise reduction was achieved with no apparent impact on the structural performance of the sandwich panels. This system could replace acoustic absorber mats used currently in rocket fairings. Testing of larger panels will continue in the next project phase.
Figure 23: Point bending an insulated fairing panel (image credit: ESA, RUAG)
- These activities were funded and carried out within ESA's Future Launchers Preparatory Program.
- RUAG’s fairing modifications will allow designs of more delicate satellites and relax requirements on the launch vehicle.
• September 27, 2019: Ariane 6, Europe's next-generation launch vehicle, has passed another key development milestone. Its Vulcain 2.1 liquid-fuelled engine has now completed its qualification testing, which means combined tests can now begin. 20)
- The main stage Vulcain 2.1 engine will deliver 135 t of thrust to propel Ariane 6 in the first eight minutes of flight up to an altitude of 200 km.
- A review last week marked the culmination of two Vulcain static firing test campaigns over 15 months on two demonstration models in test facilities at the DLR German Aerospace Center test facility in Lampoldshausen.
- The final qualification static firing test of Vulcain 2.1 in July lasted almost 11 minutes (655 seconds). This completed a total of 13,798 seconds of operation, or nearly four hours with a controlled engine, using Ariane 6 flight actuators to gimbal the engine.
- “These very positive results confirm the functional and mechanical behavior of Vulcain 2.1. The upcoming combined tests will qualify Ariane 6 subsystems at stage and launcher level,” commented Guy Pilchen, ESA’s Ariane 6 launcher project manager.
- The engine will be refurbished for dynamic and vibration tests. Combined tests using a fully representative main stage at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, will finally qualify the Ariane 6 core stage for flight.
- Completion of the Vulcain 2.1 and Vinci qualification tests represent a major step forward in the Ariane 6 development.
- The qualifying tests for the Vinci re-ignitable engine, which will power the launcher’s upper stage, were completed in October 2018. Vinci will be integrated with the complete upper stage for tests at Lampoldshausen.
- The next step for large propulsion systems is the static firing in French Guiana of the final qualification model of Ariane 6’s P120C solid fuel booster. This test will define the acceleration profile for the launcher and will consequently allow engineers to pursue the preparation of the upcoming flights.
• July 29, 2019: At Europe’s Spaceport the Ariane 6 mobile gantry, a 90 m high metallic structure built to house Ariane 6, underwent a 97 m rollout test last week to mimic prelaunch. 21)
Figure 24: First rollout of Ariane 6 mobile gantry. Watch the timelapse of the first rollout of Ariane 6 mobile gantry as it moves 97 m on a track towards the launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana (video credit: ESA - European Space Agency)
- This 90 m-high metallic structure is nearly a thousand tons heavier than France's Eiffel Tower. It will house Ariane 6 and when fully equipped will weigh 8,200 tons. Its platforms provide access to the launch vehicle for integration on the launch pad. It protects Ariane 6 until its doors are opened and it is retracted about five hours before the launch.
- The mobile gantry stands on 16 bogies, each bogie comprises eight wheels and each wheel is equipped with one electric motor. A total of 128 electric motors synchronize to set the wheels in motion along rails.
- “Preparation is everything but the actual move is automated and quite simple,” explained Jean-Michel Rizzi, ESA’s Ariane 6 Launch Base Project Manager, “You choose to move the gantry forward or backwards and then press the start button.
Figure 25: Bogie under Ariane 6 mobile gantry. Each bogie comprises eight wheels and each wheel is equipped with one electric motor. A total of 128 automated electric motors synchronize to set the wheels in motion so that the mobile gantry can retract 141 m along rails away from the launch pad in the final countdown to liftoff (image credit: ESA)
- “There are three speeds. The first and last meter are done at the slowest speed of 1m/minute. This increases to a ‘cruising’ speed of 7.6 m/minute for a 130 m stretch and then slowed back down to 3 m/minute in the decelerating phase over a distance of 9 m. The full rollout of 141 m takes 22 minutes.”
- Over the next five weeks this test will be repeated several times and after each test, the mobile gantry will be rolled back to its initial pulled back position.
- Current works being carried out around the nearby mast will soon be finished allowing the mobile gantry to follow the full track length.
- The Ariane 6 Launch Base construction is nearly complete and final tests are proving the infrastructures are ready for handover from industry to CNES, France’s Space Agency. These rollouts are part of this process. At the end of this year all systems are expected to be fully integrated.
- After a successful Launch Base Technical Qualification Review, CNES will hand over the launch base to ESA.
Figure 26: The mobile gantry, a 90 m high 8,200 ton metallic structure stands on 16 bogies that move this colossal structure. It houses Ariane 6 until it is retracted about five hours before launch (image credit: ESA)
• July 18, 2019: The Ariane Group is reporting that the 26th qualification tests of the Vulcain® 2.1 engine, which will power the Ariane 6 main stage, have been successfully completed. 22)
a) The qualification tests of the Vulcain®2.1 engine, which will power the Ariane6 main stage, were completed during the 26th development test.
b) This final qualification test took place on 16 July on the P5 test stand at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen
c) Both Ariane6 liquid propulsion engines have now completed their firing qualification tests
d) The qualification tests for the Vinci re-ignitable engine for the Ariane upper stage were completed in October 2018.
- This final qualification test, carried out on the P5 test stand at the German Aerospace Center(DLR)site in Lampoldshausen, lasted almost 11minutes (655 seconds).
- This success, which is decisive for the further development of Ariane6, marks the end of this qualification test campaign, during which the Vulcain®engine will have functioned for 13,798 seconds, or a total of nearly4 hours.
- The significant milestones achieved during the Vulcain®2.1 qualification campaigns include:
1) a total of 13,798 seconds of operation, or nearly 4 hours;
2) a firing test with a controlled engine oscillation of ±5º, using Ariane6 flight actuators.
- “Completion of the Vulcain 2.1 engine qualification tests is a major step forward in the development of Ariane6. Following the qualification of the Vinci engine last year, all the Ariane6 liquid propulsion engines have now completed their qualification firing tests”,said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup. “The last step in the qualification of the Ariane6 engines will be that of the solid fuel side booster. Its third and final firing will take place in French Guiana at the beginning of 2020”.
- The qualifying tests for the Vinci® re-ignitable engine, which will power the launcher’s upper stage, were completed in October 2018. On the solid propulsion side, the P120C solid fuel engine, which will equip the Ariane boosters and the first stage of Vega-C, has already been tested twice successfully in French Guiana. Its qualification will be completed with the third test bench firing at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou.
• June 27, 2019: An Irish space company will design, develop and deliver on-board live telemetry for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle under a contract signed yesterday. 23)
- Réaltra Space signed the agreement with ArianeGroup, the prime contractor to ESA for the development of Ariane 6. The company will provide live video images from cameras located on board Ariane 6, showing each stage of the launch.
- The first Ariane 6 flight is scheduled to take place in 2020.
- Ariane 6 has a modular structure that has three stages that propel it to space: either two or four strap-on solid rocket motors; followed by a core stage; and an upper stage.
- The robust cameras supplied by Dublin-based Réaltra Space will capture the moments at which the stages separate as the rocket soars up through the atmosphere on its way to space.
- John Halligan, Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development in the Irish government, said: “The awarding of this contract is a significant achievement for Réaltra and demonstrates how Irish space companies can succeed in the delivery of cutting-edge space technologies. The world-class activities in Réaltra are building the reputation of Ireland’s space technology sector in the global marketplace and creating high-value jobs in Irish companies.”
• June 20, 2019: ESA is involving potential European stakeholders early on in the development and exploitation of the Vega space transportation system, including Space Rider. 24)
- New payload carriers are being developed with the first ride share this year on Vega’s Small Spacecraft Missions Service. Further payload capabilities will be available through Europe’s next-generation Vega-C in 2020 and the Space Rider in 2022, also offering a laboratory for payloads operations in space and return to Earth for a host of applications.
- Vega and Space Rider active industrial partners and newcomers are proposing innovative ideas to be processed and incorporated in ESA proposals presented at Space19+ in November where ESA Member States will take decisions on the future of Europe in space.
- ESA’s Space Transportation Directorate aims to gather the widest industrial background, competence and interest necessary to implement its programs’ activities at system, subsystem and components levels. Part of this has been achieved by exchanging detailed information with current and potential developers and end users.
• June 7, 2019: The ELA-4 (French: l'Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 4) launch site is currently undergoing construction and is intended as the future launch site for the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. Both the launch pad itself and the BAL (Fench: Bâtiment d’Assemblage Lanceur) - the launcher assembly building are being worked on for use with Ariane 6. 25)
Figure 27: CSG - ELA-4 construction site for Ariane 6 (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
Figure 28: ESA strives for the future of Europe in space and key to this endeavor is maintaining access to space. This objective is accomplished by supporting the development of new launch vehicles and next year will be an important year: Vega-C and Ariane 6 will fly for the first time. Vega-C is an enhanced version of Europe’s current Vega, with increased power and capacity. Ariane 6 is Europe’s next heavy-lift launcher which will replace Ariane 5. With Ariane 6 the approach is evolving for the assembly and production processes, and also in the sharing of responsibilities between ESA and Industry. — In parallel to preparing a new generation of launchers, ESA is also working on its first reusable spacecraft, Space Rider, that will fly on top of a Vega-C and which should be confirmed at Space19+, the Ministerial Conference in Seville in November 2019 (video credit: ESA) 26)
Figure 29: 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 (image credit: ArianeGroup-MIP-Thomas-Leaud) 27)
Figure 30: With the help of ESA, RUAG Space developed an out-of-autoclave process where the carbon-fibre shells of the rocket fairing are cured in an industrial oven instead of an autoclave. It reduces cost and saves time. - The first fairing manufactured in this way was flown on Ariane 5, flight VA238 on 28 June 2017. Vega began using the new type of fairing on 1 August 2017. Ariane 6 and Vega-C fairings will also be produced in the same way. The first half-shell of Ariane 6 (pictured) has been made [image credit: RUAG Space (Switzerland)] 28)
• May 6, 2019: Arianespace has signed an order with ArianeGroup to begin manufacturing the first series-production batch of 14 Ariane 6 launchers across the European space industry. 29)
a) Production of this initial batch of Ariane 6 launchers, which are to fly during the 2021-2023 timeframe, will be in parallel with the final batch of 8 Ariane 5 launchers.
b) These first series-production Ariane 6 launchers will roll out of the ArianeGroup plants from early 2021.
c) Ariane 6 is carried out within an ESA (European Space Agency) program. The Ariane 6 maiden flight is scheduled for 2020.
- Following the initial institutional and commercial launch orders for Ariane 6 obtained by Arianespace since the autumn of 2017, and the resolution of the ESA Council on April 17, 2019, related to the rocket’s exploitation framework, ArianeGroup is starting to build the first series-production batch of 14 Ariane 6 launchers.
- These 14 launchers, scheduled to fly between 2021 and 2023, will be built in ArianeGroup plants in France and Germany, as well as in those of its European industrial partners in the 13 countries taking part in the Ariane 6 program.
- In parallel, ArianeGroup is proceeding with manufacturing of the model to be used for ground qualification tests on the launch pad in French Guiana, as well as the Ariane 62’s first flight vehicle, for which the inaugural launch is planned for 2020.
- “Starting work on the first Ariane 6 series-production batch, less than four years after signing the development contract with ESA in August 2015, is a real success for the European space industry as a whole. We have made the necessary efforts to set up a new, more efficient and competitive European industrial organization in record time. We can now ensure the ramp-up of Ariane 6 production and prepare for its launch operations. Our customers are eagerly awaiting Ariane 6, and it will be delivered on time,” said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup. “I am particularly grateful to the teams at ArianeGroup, Arianespace, and our industrial partners throughout Europe who – each in their area of responsibility – work hand-in-hand to make the development, production, and marketing of the launcher possible. I also extend my warmest thanks to the European Space Agency, its member states and the national space agencies for their continued support in this great adventure, which is just beginning.”
- Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s Executive Director for Missions, Operations and Procurement, added: “With the kick-off of these first 14 series-production Ariane 6 launchers, Arianespace is proud to continue to offer its customers the best launch services. Thanks to its 62 and 64 versions and the re-ignitable Vinci engine, Ariane 6 will be able to offer an increasingly varied range of missions to satisfy the expectations of its institutional customers and address new trends in the commercial market.”
- Ariane 6 – an ESA program – will be a versatile and competitive launcher particularly well-adapted to market developments. It is modular and will be available in two versions: Ariane 62 (with two P120 solid fuel boosters, common with Vega-C) and Ariane 64 (with four P120C solid fuel boosters), enabling it to carry out all missions, to all orbits, and to guarantee continued European access to space.
- ArianeGroup is the prime contractor for the development and operation of the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launchers, and coordinates an industrial network of more than 600 companies, including 350 SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) in 13 European countries. Arianespace is responsible for the exploitation of Ariane, Soyuz and Vega launch systems, ensuring their commercialization and subsequent flight readiness and mission preparation for customers.
- ArianeGroup develops and supplies innovative and competitive solutions for civil and military space launchers, with expertise in all aspects of state-of-the-art propulsion technologies. ArianeGroup is lead contractor for Europe’s Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launcher families, responsible for both design and the entire production chain, up to and including marketing by its Arianespace subsidiary, as well as for the missiles of the French oceanic deterrent force. ArianeGroup and its subsidiaries enjoy a global reputation as specialists in the field of equipment and propulsion for space applications, while their expertise also benefits other industrial sectors. The group is a joint venture equally owned by Airbus and Safran, and employs approximately 9,000 highly qualified staff in France and Germany. Its 2018 revenues amounted to 3.6 billion euros.
- Arianespace uses space to make life better on Earth by providing launch services and solutions for all types of satellites (institutional and commercial) into all orbits. It has orbited more than 600 satellites since 1980, using its family of three launchers, Ariane, Soyuz and Vega, from launch sites in French Guiana (South America) and Baikonur (Central Asia). Arianespace is headquartered in Evry, near Paris, and has a technical facility in Kourou at the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, plus local offices in Washington, D.C., Tokyo and Singapore. Arianespace is a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, which holds 74% of its share capital, with the balance held by 15 other shareholders from the European launcher industry.
• April 9, 2019: ESA and Arianespace are giving full support to European institutional customers to launch their missions on Ariane 6 and Vega-C. Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Space Transportation and Stéphane Israël, CEO at Arianespace welcomed about 100 attendees to a conference last week on Ariane 6 and Vega-C at ESA-ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. 30)
- In-depth information on the status of development of Europe’s next-generation launchers, and answers to mission specific technical questions, led to productive two-way discussions and follow-up splinter sessions.
- Ariane 6 and Vega-C, which will debut next year, will see their activities strongly boosted by institutional missions during the transition phase of 2020–2023.
- Ariane 6’s maiden flight has already been earmarked for the launch of OneWeb’s constellation satellites, and Vega-C for the launch of LARES. Three European institutional contracts have already been signed for Ariane 6 and Vega-C launch services, with others expected in the coming months.
Figure 31: Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Space Transportation and Stéphane Israël, CEO at Arianespace welcomed about 100 attendees to a conference on Ariane 6 and Vega-C for institutional users at ESA/ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands on 4–5 April 2019 (image credit: ESA)
- Low-cost launch opportunities based on a standardized regular service offered through ESA developed payload carrying structures on Ariane 6 and on Vega/Vega-C for light satellites, from CubeSats to minisats, were also discussed in dedicated technical sessions.
- The first of the new payload carrying structures, the SSMS (Small Satellites Mission Service), aimed to meet the needs of a thriving small satellites market, is set to launch on Vega this summer providing a rideshare opportunity for seven microsatellites and 35 CubeSats. Its following launch will be on Vega-C in 2020.
- The Multi Launch System for multiple payloads offered by Ariane 6 is well under development, with an initial mission planned for 2021.
- Compared to the current Vega, the exploitation of Vega-C will allow more launches per year for increased performance to more orbits.
- Ariane 6 will come in two configurations, Ariane 62 with two boosters and 64 with four boosters, depending on mission requirements, to respond to institutional and market demand based on the Ariane 5 heritage and reliability.
- “Ariane 6 and Vega-C are perfectly adapted to handle complex missions and are capable of meeting every mission requirement in full complementarity,” commented Stéphane Israël.
- “The future of Europe and space is closely linked,” added Daniel Neuenschwander, “Let’s fly European.”
• March 19, 2019: Ariane 6 maiden flight will deploy satellites of the OneWeb constellation; OneWeb also books options with Arianespace for two more Ariane 6 launches. 31)
- OneWeb is the developer of a new global, high-speed, low latency satellite-based network designed to address the most demanding global connectivity challenges worldwide. Ariane 6 will be available to OneWeb from the second half of 2020 to provide launch capacity that supports the full deployment and replenishment of the OneWeb constellation.
- The launch service agreement specifies the use of the qualification launch of the Ariane 62 version, scheduled for the second half of 2020; the two Ariane 6 options (either in its 62 version, accommodating up to 36 OneWeb satellites, or in the 64 version, up to 78 OneWeb satellites) will be utilized starting in 2023.
- The OneWeb satellites will be launched by the first Ariane 62 into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers before raising themselves to their operational orbit.
- OneWeb’s mission is to deliver global communications through a next-generation satellite constellation that will bring seamless connectivity to everyone, everywhere.
- To this end, OneWeb is building a network of low-Earth orbit satellites that will provide high-speed, low latency services to a range of markets – including aeronautics, maritime, backhaul services, community Wi-Fi, emergency response services and more. Central to its mission, OneWeb also will be focused on connecting schools and working to bridge the digital divide for people everywhere.
- With its system deployed, the OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals capable of offering 3G, LTE (4G), 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, giving high-speed access around the world – by air, sea and land.
- The Ariane 6 launch vehicle has two variants – Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 – which allows Arianespace to offer a wide new range of launch services and solutions to customers.
- OneWeb already has entrusted Arianespace with 21 Soyuz launches to ensure the timely deployment of its constellation, whose first successful launch occurred on February 27, 2019, from the Guiana Space Center (CSG), French Guiana, South America.
- Adrian Steckel, OneWeb Chief Executive Officer, said: “I am happy to announce we will be continuing our partnership with Arianespace to launch additional satellites for our constellation on Ariane 6. Our first launch represented the start of our mission to provide connectivity for everyone, everywhere and we are grateful to Arianespace for their professionalism and fundamental role in making our launch a success. With our first six satellites in orbit, first customer contracts signed, OneWeb has entered its commercialization phase and is one step closer to reaching our dreams of providing global connectivity.“
- “We are glad to see OneWeb on board the first Ariane 6. It confirms its attractiveness on today’s commercial market and sets a mark for Ariane 6’s future,” added Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.
- With the signature of this new contract, Stéphane Israël, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer, made the following statement: “Arianespace is extremely proud to be a part of the effort to deploy OneWeb’s constellation. OneWeb’s choice to fly aboard the first Ariane 6 says a great deal about Arianespace’s DNA: we have always been at the forefront in bringing together innovation and reliability. This contract illustrates the outstanding versatility of our future launcher, which will be a champion during the next decade, embracing all market needs. I wish also to thank the European Space Agency which has accepted to allocate to the market this first flight of Ariane 6, which is part of its development contract with our prime contractor and parent company ArianeGroup.”
• March 11, 2019: The Vega-C launch system recently passed its CDR (Critical Design Review) and is now ready to complete manufacturing and final testing as part of the qualification phase. 32)
- This Critical Design Review is a major milestone. Independent experts from ESA, national institutions and industries confirmed the consistency and maturity of the entire Vega-C launch system design, authorizing the program to enter the design qualification phase for the inaugural flight planned in the first quarter of 2020.
- The review included all the elements of the Vega-C launch system, as well as integration activities for the launch base and launch range.
- It encompassed all detailed design aspects and test campaigns performed on all launch system elements, such as the solid rocket motors (P120C and Z40), structural components, avionics equipment, and related integrated system aspects.
- The review Board meeting, chaired by Toni Tolker Nielsen, ESA’s Inspector General, and Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation, concluded the review by commending the teams, and giving the green light to proceed to the next phase.
- “This critical milestone was achieved thanks to the extraordinary commitment of all industry involved in the Vega-C development to meet the challenging objectives and planning of the program. This timely success shows that we are on track,” commented Giorgio Tumino, Vega Development Program Manager.
- Qualification tests will verify the design and manufacturing processes, assembly and flight hardware and software, and associated ground support systems. Simulations will show the space and ground segment work together as they should.
- Stefano Bianchi, ESA’s Head of Space Transportation Development Department added: “We have a challenging twelve months ahead, starting with four Vega launches between March and November and ending with the maiden flight of Vega-C. We have an exceptional team within European industries and Agencies, to meet these challenges!”
• January 29, 2019: The first qualification model of the P120C solid-fuel motor, configured for Vega-C, was static fired yesterday on the test stand at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. 33)
- Fully loaded with 142 tons of fuel, the 13.5 m long and 3.4 m diameter motor was ignited for a final simulation of liftoff and the first phase of flight.
- During a burn time of 135 seconds, the P120C delivered a maximum thrust of 4650 kN. No anomalies were seen and ,according to initial recorded data, the performance met expectations. A full analysis of these test results will confirm readiness of this motor for Vega-C’s debut launch.
- The P120C replaces the current P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C, significantly increasing performance.
- New features make this motor a proud achievement of European industry. The large motor case made of carbon composite was built in one piece. Advanced manufacturing techniques have been incorporated in horizontal robotic integration of the nozzle, and efficient production has driven down costs in a competitive launchers market.
- This hot firing follows the test of the P120C development model in July last year. The second qualification model, configured for Ariane 6, will be tested later this year.
- Ariane 6 will also use P120C motors as strap-on boosters, either two or four according to the configuration. Building a common motor for Europe’s next-generation launch vehicles has benefitted development goals and economies of scale, supporting ESA’s goal to maintain independent access to space for Europe.
- ESA, France’s CNES space agency, and Europropulsion under contract to Avio and ArianeGroup, collaborated on this test.
Figure 32: The P120C full-scale model solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega-C, filled with 142 tons of inert propellant, is prepared for further integration with other structures (image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)
• June 14, 2018: The ESA Council met today in Paris to discuss the path towards the future exploitation of Ariane 6. In view of the progress made in the Ariane 6 program, Participating States have decided on the completion of the development up to full operational capability and agreed to fund industrial incentives associated with the development of Ariane 6 and P120C solid rocket motor. 34)
- Participating States also committed to start with the first step of the Ariane 6 and P120C Transition Program. This program supports the evolution from Europe’s Ariane 5 to full operational capability of Ariane 6.
- Ariane 6 is Europe’s new-generation launcher, designed to secure guaranteed access to space for Europe at an affordable price for European institutional users. It will operate in two configurations: Ariane 62 is fitted with two P120C strap-on boosters while Ariane 64 has four. Ariane 6’s maiden flight is planned for mid-2020.
- P120C is the largest carbon-fiber solid propellant booster ever built in one segment at almost 13.5 m long and about 3.4 m in diameter. Two boosters will be used on Ariane 6’s maiden flight in 2020.
Figure 33: Artist's view of the four boosters (A64) configuration of Ariane 6 (image credit: ESA-David Ducros)
• February 15, 2018: The re-ignitable Vinci®, engine, which will power the upper stage of the Ariane 6 launcher, has now successfully completed its last two subsystems qualification campaigns (M6 and M7) with 140 engine tests conducted. The tests in campaigns M6 and M7, vital for qualification of the engine subsystems, were carried out on the PF52 bench at the ArianeGroup site in Vernon, France, and on the German Aerospace Center DLR's P4.1 bench in Lampoldshausen, Germany. 35)
- A total of 25 tests (16 for M6 and 9 for M7) were carried out under nominal conditions, and include three major performance "firsts":
a) a test of 1,569 seconds – an unprecedented duration,
b) a series of 20 successful boosts (1 ignition followed by 19 engine re-ignitions), totaling an operating duration of 300 seconds,
c) a continuous burn of 800 seconds in "high operation", i.e. at the maximum thrust for which the engine is designed.
- The purpose of these tests was also to test the Vinci® engine beyond its operational requirements, as it will only require ignition a maximum of 4 times during its missions, with a maximum burn time of 900 seconds in flight.
- Valérie de Korver, Product Manager Vinci® Propulsion System at ArianeGroup, said: "These campaigns went very smoothly and we demonstrated considerable margins with respect to the flight requirements, in particular thanks to a new ignition system and we successfully achieved a number of firsts, such as performing 20 boosts in a single test. This is a major step in demonstrating the ability of the Vinci engine to meet the versatility demands of the Ariane 6 launcher. It is also a new and major milestone for the program and for the teams, who are well aware of the challenges faced in these campaigns and who are always intensely committed to ensuring their success."
- The Vinci® engine was developed by ArianeGroup for Ariane 6 and provides the future European launcher with extreme versatility. Its main feature is its multiple ignition capability: Vinci® will be able to re-ignite in flight as many times as necessary, in order to place several payloads in orbit at different locations, according to the specific needs of the mission. This engine will enable Ariane 6 to carry out all types of missions, regardless of duration and target orbit, particularly the deployment of satellite constellations, for which demand will continue to grow.
- Design authority and industrial lead contractor for the development and operation of the Ariane 6 launcher on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), ArianeGroup coordinates an industrial network of more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, including more than 350 SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises).
• February 2, 2018: Two models of the common solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega-C are being prepared and tested at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. 36)
- The P120C full-scale model solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega-C, filled with 142 tons of inert propellant, is tilted from its vertical orientation to horizontal position for further integration with other structures.
- The P120C is the largest solid-propellant motor ever built in one segment, at almost 11.5 m long and about 3.4 m in diameter. Two or four will be strapped to Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.
- Vega-C is expected to debut in mid-2019 with P120C as the first-stage motor, which will increase performance from Vega’s current 1.5 t to about 2.2 t in a reference 700 km polar orbit.
Figure 34: Photo of the P120 C full-scale model in horizontal position (image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)
Figure 35: Attaching the nozzle: The nozzle is attached to the P120C full-scale model solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega-C (image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)
• January 23, 2018: The first hot firing of Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1 main engine has been performed at the DLR (German Aerospace Center) test facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany. — Further tests will examine the ignition conditions, and the behavior and performance of the engine and its different subsystems. 37)
- The engine, developed by ArianeGroup, has a simplified and more robust nozzle, a gas generator made through additive manufacturing, and an oxygen heater for oxygen tank pressurization. These features lower the cost of the engine and simplify manufacturing.
- During this year, three Vulcain test campaigns in Germany and France will help engineers to decide whether adjustments are needed to optimize the functional, thermal and mechanical behavior, before the start of combined tests.
- In parallel, more than 130 test firings on the Vinci engine powering Ariane 6’s upper stage have been carried out. These tests, in particular, have verified Vinci’s multiple ignition capabilities. Tests have used the P41 stand at DLR in Lampoldshausen and the PF52 stand at the ArianeGroup site in Vernon, France.
Figure 36: On 10 October 2017, the M1 demonstration flight model of the Vulcain 2.1 main stage cryogenic rocket motor for Ariane 6 arrived in the DLR German Aerospace Center test facility in Lampoldshausen for functional tests. The Vulcain is 3.7 m high, 2.5 m in diameter with a mass of about 2 tons, and will deliver 135 tons of thrust in vacuum (image credit: ArianeGroup Holding)
• January 8, 2018: Watch Ariane 6's Vulcain main engine roar into action in its first test firing at DLR German Aerospace Center test facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany. 38)
Figure 37: In January 2018, Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine completed its first hot fire test at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany (image credit: ArianeGroup)
• December 15, 2017: The race is on to build the new launch pad for the Ariane 6 rocket, due to make its maiden voyage in July 2020. Construction is in full swing in French Guiana as Europe builds not only a new rocket but also a new way of launching rockets, in a bid to face down competition from the likes of SpaceX. 39)
- When Euronews visited, around 500 people were active on the site from six in the morning until ten at night, with attention focused on two key elements of the pad - firstly the huge flame trench which will take the hot gases away from the rocket on launch, and the new building in which the Ariane 6 will be built.
• September 14, 2017: Arianespace will launch four new satellites for the Galileo constellation, using two Ariane 62 versions of the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. 40)
- Stéphane Israël, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer, and Paul Verhoef, Director of Navigation at the European Space Agency (ESA), signed the launch contract for four new satellites to join the European satellite navigation system Galileo. The contract will be conducted by ESA on behalf of the European Commission (DG Growth).
- These launches are planned between the end of 2020 and mid-2021, using two Ariane 62 launchers – the configuration of Europe’s new-generation launch vehicle that is best suited for the targeted orbit. The contract also provides for the possibility of using the Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center, if needed.
- Both missions will carry a pair of Galileo spacecraft to continue the constellation deployment for Europe’s satellite-based navigation system. The satellites, each weighing approximately 750 kg., will be placed in medium earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of 23,222 km and be part of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation.
• At the end of 2016, ASL became the majority shareholder of Arianespace and changed its name to ArianeGroup on the 1st of July 2017. 41) ArianeGroup & Arianespace now gathers all the competences for designing, procuring, integrating, operating and commercializing launchers.
• November 9, 2016: After a program review completed in September, ESA is now in a position to proceed with the full development of its Ariane 6 and Vega C launch vehicles. Today, the riders to the contracts awarded in August 2015 were signed at ESA headquarters in Paris, France. This confirms the timely continuation of the preparation of Europe’s Ariane 6 and its launch complex. 42)
- ASL (Airbus Safran Launchers) is prime contractor and design authority for Ariane 6, with France’s CNES space agency as prime contractor for the launch pad and associated facilities at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
- The set-up with ASL is an important change of governance in the European launcher sector. Industry is the design authority and taking full responsibility for developing and exploiting the vehicles, committing to deliver them to ESA and the European institutional customers at specified competitive prices.
- “Ariane 6 is on track for its 2020 maiden flight, achieving full operational capability in 2023,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Launchers. “The timely availability of Ariane 6 is bound to have a significant impact on the increasingly competitive worldwide launcher market.”
• September 2016: Given the short development time for Ariane 6 (decision to start development in dec-2014 for a maiden flight in 2020), it has been decided to follow a concurrent engineering approach between ESA acting as Launch System Architect and the two prime contractors (ASL and CNES) in the elaboration of the Operational Concept. 43)
• August 12 ,2015: Today, ESA signed contracts for the development of the Ariane 6 new-generation launcher, its launch base and the Vega C evolution of the current small launcher. 44)
- The contracts, signed at ESA’s Paris Head Office with ASL (Airbus Safran Launchers), France’s CNES space agency and ELV(European Launch Vehicle) of Italy, respectively, cover all development work on Ariane 6 and its launch base for a maiden flight in 2020, and on Vega C for its 2018 debut.
- “These contracts will allow the development of a family of European launchers, highly competitive in the world market and ensuring autonomous access to space at fully competitive prices for ESA’s Member States,” said Jan Woerner, Director General of ESA. “They are an important change of governance in the European launcher sector, with industry being the design authority and taking full responsibility in the development and exploitation of the launchers, and committing to deliver them to ESA and the European institutional actors at specified competitive prices.”
- ASL and ELV are working closely together on the P120C solid-propellant motor that will form Vega C’s first stage and Ariane’s strap-on boosters.
- Ariane’s modular approach will offer either two boosters (Ariane 62) or four boosters (Ariane 64), depending on the required performance.
- The site of the launch pad for Ariane 6 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana has been chosen, and prime contractor CNES is already excavating the site. The new complex will also include facilities for preparing the launcher.
- The three contracts follow the decision taken at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level held in Luxemburg in December 2014 to maintain Europe’s leadership in the fast-changing commercial launch service market while responding to the needs of European institutional missions.
Figure 38: ESA signed contracts for the development of the Ariane 6 new‑generation launcher, its launch base and the Vega C evolution of the current ESA small launcher. From left to right: Alain Charmeau, CEO/President of ASL; Pierluigi Pirrelli, CEO of ELV; Jan Wörner, ESA Director General; Gaele Winters, ESA’s Director of Launchers; and Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES (image credit: ESA, N. Imbert-Vier, 2015)
• On June 10, 2015, the French government reiterated its formal approval of the sale of state ownership in the Arianespace launch consortium to Airbus Safran Launchers, a joint venture set up to develop and produce Europe's next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle. 45)
- In a statement issued following a meeting with the French defense, research and industry ministers, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Arianespace is destined “to be controlled by Airbus Safran Launchers via a transfer of Arianespace shares currently held by CNES,” the French space agency.
- “Negotiations on the terms of this industrial operation will continue on this basis while respecting the usual procedures,” Valls continued. “These discussions will be conducted in close collaboration with our European partners and other actors from the French and European space industry with the common objective of writing a new page in the history of Europe's space sector.”
- Formed late last year to initiate development of a next-generation successor to Europe's Ariane 5 – known as Ariane 6 – Airbus Safran Launchers currently holds a 41% stake in Arianespace, while CNES holds a little more than 34%. The new joint venture has been pushing for a quick transfer of Arianespace equity to the Airbus Safran Launchers, and negotiations have been underway for several months as to the launch consortium's value.
• December 2, 2014: ESA today concluded a productive one-day Council meeting at ministerial level in Luxembourg. Ministers of ESA Member States agreed on the development of a family of new launchers, Ariane 6 and Vega C, and approved funding for the International Space Station and space exploration. - In addition, Ministers set a course for ESA to remain an independent intergovernmental space organization. 46)
Ministers adopted three Resolutions:
1) “Resolution on Europe’s access to space”, covering the development of Ariane 6 and Vega C.
2) “Resolution on Europe’s space exploration strategy”, covering ESA’s three destinations for exploration (LEO low-Earth orbit, Moon and Mars)
3) “Resolution on ESA evolution”, covering the vision for ESA until 2030.
Ariane 6 continued
Ariane 6 Concept
The configuration of Ariane 6 is a modular two-stage launcher with strap-on boosters in two different configurations (see Fig. 1); they allow covering a broad range of commercial and institutional applications. 47)
Ariane 62 with two strap-on solid-propellant boosters will be used primarily for single-passenger missions with medium-sized satellites.
Ariane 64 with four strap-on boosters with a payload lift performance set at 10.5 tons to GTO in dual launch is more dedicated to larger payloads.
Both configurations include a cryogenic main stage powered by an upgraded Vulcain 2 engine derived from Ariane 5 – and a cryogenic upper stage based on the new Vinci engine previously planned to fly on the midlife evolution of Ariane 5 A5ME.
The P120C strap-on motors are commonly developed for Ariane 6 and VEGA-C evolution of VEGA launcher. More details on the configuration and design of Ariane 6 are presented in Ref. 43).
Figure 39: Ariane 6 main characteristics, configurations & performances (image credit: ArianeGroup)
Ariane 6 Industrialization Concept
ArianeGroup has engaged in a new way to develop launchers in Europe adapting the “Lean” management, development and manufacturing approaches to the launchers business. It stands on 4 pillars and a basis displayed in Figure 40.
Ariane 6 industrial policy was fostered by the European Launcher sector reform with new governance, new streamlined industrial set-up and one single contract at completion to ensure continuous development.
The Airbus-Safran Joint Venture creation and more recently the creation of ArianeGroup are major steps towards a new industrial set up since they:
• Create the conditions for Ariane 6 success: revamped industrial set-up required to bring Ariane 6 as quick, as performant and as affordable as possible to the market;
• Integrate launcher complementary competences: combine launcher system prime and integration expertise with critical capabilities in solid and liquid propulsion;
• Improve competitiveness of the future European launcher sector to adapt to stringent budget constraints, changing demand and enhanced competition;
• Build closer relations between Industry and Arianespace with the creation of ArianeGroup: industry will be exposed to market risks, to answer in an agile manner to customers demand and industrial operations in Kourou will be streamlined.
Another step is the reorganization of the launcher industrial scheme through the creation of clusters of excellence. Industrial breakdown is driven by the gathering of competences around dedicated industrial partners. This organization for the Ariane 6 project is presented in Table 1 and illustrated on Figure 41.
LLPM (Lower Liquid Propulsion Module)
Maximize the use of industrial assets
The design of Ariane 6 production system optimizes the use of industrial assets and limits the need for new ones. No new investment is decided without sound lean index, overall equipment effectiveness, added value surface ratio, etc.
The current Ariane 5 production system allows reusing existing facilities (buildings, test benches and tools), with limited adaptations - including supplier assets - for producing the 1st set of hardware before industrial implementation in existing buildings. The increases of launch rate will be achieved by increasing the effectiveness of the current Ariane 5 and Vega exploitation facilities. Among other, the main manufacturing, Assembly and Integration and Test facilities will be reused such as:
• BIP (Bâtiment Integration Propulseur),
• BEAP (Banc d’Essai des Etages d’Acceleration à Poudre),
• PF50 P5 (Vulcain Test Benches),
• P4.1 and PF52 P5.2. (Vinci Test Benches)
Facilities will be shared with Vega-C for the Solid Rocket Motor for a faster industrialization and learning curve.
This industrial setup will reach maximum efficiency if it manages to be disturbance-free. It thus needs to be designed to have a maximum stability of manufacturing and integration in the exploitation phase. This robustness is ensured by an alignment of product and process designs during development phase. It is performed in a concurrent engineering mode, with common freeze of specifications, product and process designs.
Standardized and stabilized manufacturing processes, & means and tools are also implemented to reach a “right first-time” production. This is also supported by the implementation of lean principles and continuous improvements methods at all levels as detailed in the next section.
Lean thinking is a mindset promoted in Ariane 6 design of products and processes driven by natural and simple principles:
• Fluidity: the aim is to reach continuous flow so emphasis is set on the identification and elimination of wastes & unnecessary actions.
• Small Steps: improvements do not need to be major breakthroughs all the time. The major change stands in continuous improvement.
• Evolution: it is important to keep the ability to evolve in order to allow agility at all levels.
• Common sense: the simplest ideas are often the easiest and most efficient. It is important to be inspired by what might have worked elsewhere.
Lean implementation relies on methods and tools. In order to learn to see the value versus the wastes, the main tool used is value stream mapping, which helps quantifying wastes: waiting (work in progress), setup, rework, machine breakdown…and which measures the lean index of a process (value added time vs. total lead time). Multi-function value stream mappings had already started on Ariane 5 processes at the workplaces and led to structured improvement plans.
The use of 5S is also generalized in order to standardize work and that operators concentrate on value-added operation. Operators are focused on “value”, empowered to improve and with a strong support from management. This results in work preparation, kitting & synchronized logistics.
These principles have been directly implemented in the design of the main integration facilities of Ariane 6 Liquid Propulsion Modules and Solid Rocket Motors.
The objective being to reduce lead time by 2 compared to Ariane 5, horizontal integration has been implemented in these facilities. Indeed, it allows having “flat”, simple and versatile buildings and more transparency and reactive support on the shop floor.
The discipline of flow: The lead time and production flow of Ariane 6 are major drivers for its future success in exploitation. Indeed, recent years have shown that the market requires agility and reactivity to address rapidly evolving customer needs. The lean principles described will not only provide local optimizations of the manufacturing and integration processes but are applied at a larger level to perform an end-to-end optimization of the production flow. It will allow managing the production system of Ariane 6 from raw material to launch in a seamless flow.
This optimization is made possible thanks to the integration of core competences at ArianeGroup level and the strong partnerships set with key industrial partners through the Extended Enterprise.
As a result, the production means of Ariane 6 will act as a single facility with a single flow. The Ariane 6 industrial policy is thus allowing a customer-pulled production where the flow is synchronized at customer takt-time. In order to solve the paradigm of reacting to market’s demand while keeping manufacturing at a pace as stable as possible, production needs will be determined and updated through a rolling forecast.
This industrial policy is a major evolution compared to the “production-pushed” approach and is key to the economic efficiency and overall agility of Ariane 6 launcher system.
Ariane 6 Program Status
In order to perform a first Ariane 6 launch in 2020 and reach a full-operation capability of 11 launches per year in 2023, the development logic applied on Ariane 6 does not follow the traditional V-cycle. Based on the lessons learned from Ariane 5 program but also from Airbus aircraft development experience, a “production-pull” logic is implemented. The main principle is that one single launcher definition demonstrates the compliance of both product and manufacturing/operational process with respect to its requirements in 3 incremental qualification steps. The correct progression over this logic is checked through a series of MG (Maturity Gates) assessing that the correct level of maturity is reached throughout the development (Figure 42).
Maturity Gate #6 (“start of S1 manufacturing”) is split in 2 parts:
• MG6.1 to authorize the start of QM (Qualification Models) manufacturing. The associated review was held in April 2017.
• MG6.2 to authorize the start of Flight Models (FM) manufacturing. It will be held in November / December 2017.
The MG6.1 review concentrated on the maturity of the joint convergence process for:
• Launcher specification, design qualification logic;
• Industrialization logic and supply chain management;
• End-to-End manufacturing, assembly, integration and tests processes and operations;
• Standard Operations Procedures and critical processes.
This maturity gate was passed successfully and allowed confirming that the industrialization policy is correctly implemented and on-track with respect to program’s schedule. The reviewers praised the fact that significant emphasis is put on industrialization in a development review.
Next MG6.2 review will mainly assess the correct progress over the roadmap presented at MG6.1. It will allow triggering the start of manufacturing of Ariane 6’s first flight model.
Vulcain 2.1 & Vinci engines
Vulcain 2.1 first engine assembly has been completed during summer 2017. It used the new P3M tool which supports the operators during assembly by positioning the engine in an optimal position at each integration step. This mean drives down the costs associated to operations by 40%. An illustration of the first Vulcain 2.1 engine on the P3M is provided in Figure 43. The first tests at P5 DLR facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany will take place end of 2017.
The Vinci re-ignitable engine qualification progresses as scheduled. The first flight qualification model has been delivered end of June 2017 and the dynamic qualification tests were performed at IABG. On the 22nd of September 2017, the 128th Vinci engine test was successfully performed at P4.1 test bench (DLR - Lampoldshausen) with a duration equal to the nominal functioning duration of the engine.
Figure 44: Vinci combustion chamber (left) and first APU 3D-printed gas generator (right), image credit: ArianeGroup
APU (Auxiliary Power Unit): Ariane 6 Upper stage features a gas generator able to pressurize LOX tanks during flight. This Auxiliary Power Unit is fully manufactured using Additive Layer Manufacturing. The first 3D-printed APU has been produced and tests have begun.
Solid Rocket Motor: The inert model of the P120C was delivered to Guiana: first filling tests have been performed. The nozzle components have been successfully fire-tested. The 1st firing test (DM model) is scheduled in April 2018 in Guiana.
Figure 45: P120C composite body (left), nozzle firetests (right), image credit: ArianeGroup
In Europe, the facilities for the manufacturing and integration of Ariane 6 liquid propellant tanks have begun in Augsburg, Bremen & Les Mureaux. 3D-immersion rooms have been deployed on ArianeGroup’s site to start rehearsing integration operations and setting up & testing standard procedures without waiting for the facilities to be completed. The Functional Test Facility is also being installed in Les Mureaux to perform the avionics real-time, hardware in-the-loop tests.
In Guiana, the preparation of the Ariane 6 Launch Base by CNES has begun. The combined tests between the Launch Base and Ariane 6 Qualification model will start end of 2019. A new and common building is prepared for Regulus (Joint Venture between ArianeGroup & Avio) to manufacture P120 boosters for Ariane 6 and Vega-C launchers.
• April 26, 2018: CNES is in charge of the CSG (Guiana Space Center) ground segment. CNES has selected the Space Alliance, formed by Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space, to extend the fiber-optic communications system (STFO) at CSG. The extended system will be ready to meet the needs of Ariane 6 customers by the end of 2019. The STFO communications system acts as an interface between launch customers’ test benches and satellites throughout the different launch preparation phases at CSG, including spacecraft fueling, satellite encapsulation under the launch vehicle fairing and launch pad operations. In operation since the 1990s, this system will now be extended and upgraded to serve Ariane 6 customers. 48)
- The new system is specially designed to meet the needs of the very high throughput satellite (VHTS) market, as it extends radio-frequency (RF) services to 40 GHz and allows the simultaneous operation of two satellites in Ka-band. Telespazio France, as prime contractor, and Thales Alenia Space in Spain, as subcontractor, will bring to the project their complementary skills in system engineering, communications networks, software systems, RF and fiber-optics, as well as in the operation and maintenance of the current STFO system.
- Telespazio is already responsible for highly critical and demanding activities in the CSG, and this is the company's first opportunity to take an active role also in the installation of the new Ariane 6 launcher in French Guiana.
Launcher System: The next milestones for the Launcher System are the MG6.2 end of 2017 that will trigger the production of first Ariane 6 flight model and then MG7 mid-2018 that will focus on the critical design review of the launcher system.
Increased Versatility: Ariane 6 versatility has been increased by considering additional upper composite configurations thus offering a large array of solutions to customers (Figure 46). Ariane 6 now features an auxiliary payload system to embark payloads from 1kg to a few hundreds of kg as secondary passengers when performance allows.
For the constellation market, it has been established that Ariane 6 is a suitable solution:
• With its re-ignitable Vinci engine, Ariane 6 offers flexibility in the deployment of constellations by delivering part of the payloads on one orbit and the rest on another. Ariane 6 is in particular able to deliver payloads on two different orbital planes i.e. with different longitudes of the ascending node.
• It has been demonstrated that the capacities of the versatile Upper Stage allow separating several tens of payloads with a non-collision between them guaranteed overall several days.
ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program
On 22 March 2018, the full-scale demonstrator of a thrust chamber for an upper-stage rocket motor, called ETID (Expander-cycle Technology Integrated Demonstrator), arrived at the DLR (German Aerospace Center) test facility in Lampoldshausen for functional tests. It incorporates the newest propulsion systems that will help prove new technologies, materials and manufacturing techniques that offer higher performance at lower cost for Europe’s future launchers. 49)
ETID is a precursor of the next generation of 10 ton rocket engines. Some of the technologies could also be used on upgrades to the existing Vinci, which powers the upper stage of Ariane 6.
The Prometheus precursor of a 100 ton class rocket engine intended for next-generation launch vehicles will also benefit from the knowledge gained during demonstration, for example on additively manufactured parts or low-cost combustion chamber materials.
Upper-stage engines operate in specific conditions such as vacuum and weightlessness that are difficult to reproduce on Earth, and involve significant development risks that have to be mitigated.
From April to the end of the year, ETID will be ignited up to 20 times with each firing lasting 120 s, in conditions similar to those in space with a near-vacuum provided by the test stand. Led by ArianeGroup in Germany, GKN Aerospace in Sweden, Aerospace Propulsion Products in the Netherlands, Safran Aero Boosters in Belgium and Carinthian Tech Research in Austria have all provided hardware for the tests.
At least two versions of each piece of hardware have been built, resulting in at least three different test configurations to be hot-fired, proving different technologies and methods of manufacture such as additive manufacturing, laser ignition and cost-efficient materials. In addition, components will be tested to lay the foundations for a future ‘smart’ engine.
Through its Future Launchers Preparatory Program, ESA aims to increase the future competitiveness of European launchers by creating ready-made technical solutions, which can be transferred for quick development projects with minimal cost, effort and risk.
“New demonstrators and evolutions of existing engines integrate new technologies, industrial processes and global trends to meet the competitive long-term challenges of the European space transportation sector. Hot-firing tests on such demonstrators are the best way we have to test propulsion technologies in representative conditions,” commented Kate Underhill, lead engineer.
Figure 47: A full-scale demonstrator of the thrust chamber for an upper-stage rocket engine incorporating the newest propulsion technologies is being prepared for its first hot firing (image credit: ArianeGroup)
Status of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program
• May 28, 2020: Based on hot-fire tests of an ETID (Expander-cycle Technology Integrated Demonstrator) that proved the technology and methods last year, ESA, ArianeGroup and DLR (German Aerospace Center) have built and hot-fire tested a fully additively-manufactured thrust chamber. The ETID is a full-scale integrated demonstrator for an upper-stage rocket engine. 50)
Figure 48: This first test lasted 30 seconds and was carried out on 26 May 2020 at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Lampoldshausen testing facility. Additional tests are planned next week. The data from this test campaign will be collected and analyzed (image credit: ArianeGroup GmbH)
- This fully 3D-printed thrust chamber is built in just three parts and could power the upper stages of future rockets.
- Additive layer manufacturing also known as 3D-printing, allows more complex designs for higher performance, vastly reduces the number of parts in this case from hundreds to three, and speeds up production time. This reduces costs and significantly improves the competitiveness of liquid propulsion engines for European launch vehicles.
- This fullscale chamber has a 3D-printed copper liner with integrated cooling channels and a high-strength jacket built on via cold-gas spraying. Its manifold and single-piece injector head are also 3D-printed.
- The production and test of these parts has been performed within ESA's Future Launchers Preparatory Program.
• March 3, 2020: The 3D-printed thrust chamber assembly of the methane-fuelled M10 rocket engine has passed its first series of hot firing tests. The M10 engine will power the upper stage of future Vega evolutions from 2025. 51)
- “These test results are encouraging, confirming that our propulsion teams are right on track along the development path identified for such novel technology for Vega evolutions,” commented Giorgio Tumino, managing ESA’s Vega and Space Rider development programs.
- M10 will improve propulsion efficiency and environmental sustainability by reducing emissions and combustion waste thereby increasing the competitiveness of European small launchers and lowering their cost.
Figure 49: The 3D-printed thrust chamber assembly of the methane-fuelled M10 rocket engine passed its first series of hot firing tests at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in the USA during February 2020 (image credit: ESA/NASA)
- The M10 is restartable and uses a system of smart pressure control. This improves fuel management and offers mission flexibility.
- Avio in Italy built this TCA in two parts via additive layer-by-layer manufacturing (ALM) using metal alloys, then welded the two parts together. ALM enables more complex internal geometries to be built in fewer parts with a reduced need for additional machining, which benefits cryogenic technology, speeds up production time and cuts costs.
- M10 is a 10 t-class liquid oxygen–methane expander cycle engine, intended to replace the second and third stages (Zefiro 9 solid-propellant motor and AVUM upper stage) of the current Vega configuration.
- ALM with metal alloys has become more reliable and of better quality but product inspection is challenging. Non-destructive inspection (NDI) such as tomography and ultrasound is used to detect defects, geometry distortions and potential obstructions within cooling channels.
- Subscale models demonstrated in 2018 that ALM produces thrust chambers that are comparable to those built in the traditional way and that NDI was successful in detecting defects during manufacturing. This opened the way for the development of the full-scale ALM thrust chamber.
- During this test campaign, the TCA was fired 19 times for a total of 450 seconds at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in the USA.
- By comparing this data with the results from previous models, engineers will better understand the engine behavior and performances in the up-scaled model. This will help to optimize the configuration of the first M10 development model.
- The hot firing of the first development model of the M10 engine will be carried out at the end of the year. Ground qualification is foreseen for 2024 followed by its use in future Vega launch vehicles by 2025.
- "These tests prove new technologies and methods that will keep Europe competitive in the launch services market into the future," added Stefano Bianchi, Head of the Space Transportation developments at ESA.
Figure 50: The 3D-printed thrust chamber assembly of the methane-fuelled M10 rocket engine passed its first series of hot firing tests at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in the USA during February 2020 (video credit: ESA/NASA)
• June 24, 2019: ‘Flow forming’ shapes a metal in a single step and is being trialed to create rocket cylinders that are much cheaper and quicker to make. Launch vehicle structures must withstand large mechanical loads yet be as light as possible. 52)
Figure 51: Ten 3 m-diameter integrally stiffened cylinders – a size representative for launch vehicles like Vega and Ariane – were produced in a project jointly funded by ESA’s FLPP (Future Launchers Preparatory Program) and NASA Langley Research Center. The process is known as ISC (Integrally Stiffened Cylinder) flow forming (image credit: ESA)
- “A plain cylinder is heavy but it can be made thinner if reinforced by ‘blades’ welded along the wall or directly machined. This requires multiple steps, many welds, expensive jigs and tools – it is costly, takes time and each step can introduce risks,” explained Jorgen Bru, ESA’s FLPP Technology Manager.
- “By contrast, flow forming removes the need for welding. A cylinder is placed over a mandrel with grooves. As external rollers push the metal along, making the tube both thinner and longer, the metal flows into the mandrel’s grooves to create a thin cylindrical skin reinforced with internal blades. As a result, we gain the performance of a stiffened cylinder at the cost of plain cylinder production.”
- The process is known as ISC (Integrally Stiffened Cylinder) flow forming. It was first demonstrated on a Black Brant sounding research rocket in 2015 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on a suborbital mission lasting nine minutes. A 43 cm-diameter aluminum integrally stiffened tube formed part of the upper stage.
- Based on these promising results, collaboration between ESA and NASA led to a manufacturing test campaign at MT Aerospace in Augsburg, Germany that finished in April 2018. This proved that it was possible to manufacture much larger single-piece elements to 3 m diameter.
- In a more recent trial there, ten 3 m cylinders where formed during which engineers investigated the influence of multiple parameters on the forming results and stringer integrity, such as raw part conditioning, feed rate, revolution speed, roller configuration, and total reduction in wall thickness.
- Investigations and mechanical tests on the produced cylinders are ongoing; some have been shipped to NASA Langley for further testing and analyses.
Figure 52: Close up of a flow-formed cylinder (image credit: ESA)
- “Results from the most recent trial at MT Aerospace showcased the ability of flow forming to create near net 3-m diameter cryogenic tank barrel sections of high quality,” commented John Wagner, Engineer in the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch at NASA Langley Research Center. “In the future, we hope to conduct a structural buckling test to demonstrate the benefits of this process compared to integrally machining the barrel sections.”
- Next year, integrally stiffened cylinders will be incorporated in an integrated cryogenic tank demonstrator SCOUT, or Sandwich Common Bulkhead Optimized Upper Stage Tank. Other applications would be non-pressurized elements such as dry bay structures.
• June 19, 2019: One major advantage of 3D printing – otherwise known as additive manufacturing – is that material only needs to be placed where it is required. Embracing the design freedom this opens up can lead to the creation of parts with notably organic appearances compared to their traditionally manufactured counterparts. 53)
Figure 53: Technology image of the week. This organically-styled bracket, designed for the interior of an Ariane 5 launcher, was 3D printed in space-worthy titanium alloy for an R&D project (image credit: ESA, A. Abel)
- At the same time their performance can be just as good, if not better, with sharp reductions in mass and manufacturing time.
- This bracket is a 30% lighter version of an operational original, serving to support the cryogenic fuel tank of Ariane 5’s upper stage.
- It was not so much designed as grown, with the instrument’s design requirements put through ‘topology optimization’ software to arrive at the best possible shape.
• June 2, 2019: ESA safeguards Europe’s guaranteed access to space through its FLPP (Future Launchers Preparatory Program). 54)
- FLPP weighs up the opportunities and risks of different launch vehicle concepts and associated technologies. Its demonstrators and studies hone emerging technologies to give Europe's rocket builders a valuable head-start as they begin the demanding work of turning the chosen design into reality.
- Based on a standardized scale of TRL (Technology Readiness Levels), technologies that have been demonstrated in a laboratory environment at Level 3, are further developed within FLPP and tested via integrated demonstrators to raise them to TRL 6.
- Once a technology has reached level 6, much of the risk linked to using a new technology in a space environment has been mitigated. It can be quickly transferred to a development up to flight (TRL 9) with optimized cost and schedule.
- FLPP defines the concepts and requirements for new space transportation systems and services. Technologies are selected on their potential to reduce cost, improve performance, improve reliability, or on their ability to fulfil the specific needs of an identified system, demonstrator or mission.
- Within the program, integrated demonstrators are built by combining multiple technologies into one system or subsystem so that industry can use the technology with confidence.
Figure 54: Technology readiness levels of ESA's future launchers preparatory program (image credit: ESA)
Figure 55: Time for answers: Future space transportation (video credit: ESA) 55)
• May 29, 2019: ESA has recently completed hot-firing tests that prove technologies in a move towards ‘intelligent’ engines to power the upper stages of next-generation launchers. 56)
- The ETID (Expander-cycle Technology Integrated Demonstrator) is a full-scale integrated demonstrator for an upper-stage rocket engine.
Figure 56: Final hot fire tests of ETID demonstrator completed. An engine technology demonstrator was integrated in the P3.2 vacuum chamber at the DLR German Aerospace Center test facility in Lampoldshausen for final hot fire tests that were completed in May 2019. These tests completed a highly successful nine-month campaign that will guide Europe’s next-generation 10 ton upper-stage rocket engine design (image credit: DLR / ArianeGroup)
- Yesterday ESA, industrial partners and representatives of participating Member States met at DLR Lampoldshausen, Germany, to review the results of ETID’s extremely successful nine-month test campaign on the P3.2 test bench.
- In total, four configurations of ETID with three new combustion chamber geometries and designs were tested.
- Two different injector heads, including a fully 3D-printed version were also tested, as well as a regenerative nozzle that optimizes the engine cycle by maximizing the heat pick-up.
- Both the combustion chamber and the nozzle use the heat of the combustion to pre-heat and therefore “expand” the hydrogen propellant before combustion. The flow of cold hydrogen also has the effect of cooling the hardware, keeping the temperature within reasonable limits during operation.
- Two different electrical igniters, laser and direct spark, were shown to reignite the engines multiple times, and the electrically-operated valves showed perfect repeatability, aiding the engine startup.
- In the first step towards an ‘intelligent’ engine, there is a fault-tolerant controller associated with the valves. If any electrical component fails, the control system automatically compensates so there is no functional impact.
- Overall, 23 tests were performed for a total operating time of 2707s. During the testing 49 different operating points were reached, including testing the behavior in “extreme” regimes – such as increasing the flow of cool hydrogen in the system and therefore “over-cooling” the hardware during operation.
- This shows the versatility of the ETID design to operate over wide mixture ratio and chamber pressure ranges. This variety of operating points will also help to calibrate the numerical models used to design subsequent engines and predict their performance.
- The ETID project was carried out within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program.
• May 14, 2019: Rocket upper stages are commonly made of aluminum but switching to carbon composites lowers cost and could yield two metric tons spare payload capacity. 57)
- MT Aerospace, Augsburg, Germany, and ArianeGroup, Bremen, signed contracts with ESA today to develop Phoebus (Prototype of a Highly OptimizEd Black Upper Stage).
- Ulrich Scheib, Director Head of Strategy, Business Development and Space Programs at MT Aerospace, Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation and Jean-Christophe Henoux, Vice President Future Programs at ArianeGroup signed at ESA Headquarters in Paris, France.
- This project builds on legacy upper stage technologies and emerging composite cryogenic capabilities.
- This low-cost lightweight Phoebus demonstrator introduces carbon composite materials, in particular for the metallic tanks containing the cryogenic propellants such as liquid hydrogen and oxygen, and for other primary and secondary structures.
- Composites allow for new architectures and combinations of functions, which are not possible using metallic materials. Further optimizing the entire upper stage architecture, refining propellant loading, minimizing surplus fuel, application of wireless sensors, and alternative interface techniques, could bring the estimated increase in payload capacity to as much as two metric tonnes in geostationary orbit.
- “Future composite upper stages will look very different to those of today,” commented Josef Wiedemann, ESA Project Manager, “Carbon composites will replace much of the metal thereby reducing the mass and offering new opportunities to redefine the architecture of the upper stage depending on mission requirements.”
- The goal is to achieve optimum mass savings while ensuring propellant compatibility with these new materials, at a lower production cost.
- Phoebus aims to bring the relevant cutting-edge technologies to a technical readiness high enough to deliver an integrated stage demonstrator for cryogenic ground testing purposes in 2022. This will validate the technologies in a representative environment providing the foundation to enter development of future lightweight, low-cost upper stages, with applications for Ariane 6 in 2025.
- These activities are being carried out within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program.
Figure 57: Rocket upper stages are commonly made of aluminum but switching to carbon composites lowers cost and could yield two metric tons spare payload capacity by using Phoebus (image credit: ArianeGroup)
• February 26, 2019: Today, the DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen inaugurated a new test facility that simulates launch for the complete Ariane 6 upper stage. 58)
- The Lampoldshausen center makes a key contribution to Europe’s progress in space propulsion and already tests the Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1, and Vinci rocket engines. Other rocket engines tested here include the upper-stage expander cycle demonstrator ETID, and recently a 3D-printed thrust chamber designed for storable-propellants, both developed within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program.
- “An essential part of proving that a launch system is ready, is to test the complete rocket stages in conditions that are as close as possible to those experienced in flight,” added Pier Domenico Resta, ESA’s Ariane 6 Launch System Architect Manager. “This new test facility will enable us to simulate the launch, from ground activities such as fuelling and draining of tanks, through all flight phases.”
- The test stand design is complex, having many fluid interfaces including cryogenic supplies, near-vacuum simulation, an acoustic noise reduction system, electrical interfaces and a control stand that complies with strict safety constraints.
- Operations inside the test stand are monitored from a central control room located away from the test stand.
- The tests will include the Vinci engine firing, non-propulsive ballistic phases, tank pressurization to increase performance, Vinci reignitions, exhaust nozzle maneuvers, ending with passivation where all remaining internal energy is removed.
- Tests will last up to 18 hours and could be repeated on a weekly basis.
Figure 58: On 26 February 2019, the DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen inaugurated a new test facility that simulates launch for the complete Ariane 6 upper stage (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaya)
Figure 59: The DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen, Germany, is where rocket engines for Europe’s new Ariane 6 launch vehicle are being tested and qualified. Several of the facilities on site have been modified for Ariane 6 and a new facility will soon test the launcher’s complete upper stage, simulating as far as possible the conditions it will experience in flight. With testing and development at full pace, Ariane 6 is taking shape for its maiden voyage (video credit: ESA)
Figure 60: The test stand has three main areas. A steel structure will hold the Ariane 6 upper stage in front of a concrete safety wall – the ‘Test cell’. Under this is a concrete chute to funnel away hot exhaust gases from the Vinci engine, and behind the safety wall is a concrete building with five levels for gaseous panels, control, and auxiliary systems. Operations inside the test stand are monitored from a central command room located away from the test stand. After final preparations, a countdown marks the start of the test, simulating an actual rocket launch (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaya)
• February 21, 2019: The recent hot firing of a full-scale rocket thrust chamber assembly takes us a step closer to proving 3D-printing for an engine design destined for rocket upper stages, in-orbit transportation applications (kick-stages and space-tugs), microlaunchers, and exploration spacecraft such as a lunar lander and ascent stage on the Moon. 59)
- Manufactured entirely by 3D-printing, this thrust chamber is designed for ‘storable propellants’, called such because they can be stored as liquids at room temperature. Rocket engines that are powered this way are easy to ignite reliably and repeatedly on missions lasting many months.
- This Combustion Chamber demonstrator, with a reference thrust of 2.5 kN, was hot-fired for 560 seconds at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Lampoldshausen testing facility in Germany.
- The knowledge gained from this test campaign will be applied in turn to future engine designs to achieve a thrust range of about 2–10 kN.
- Developed by ArianeGroup within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program, this combustion chamber helps to investigate flow and heat transfer phenomena on surfaces created by 3D printing – otherwise known as additive layer manufacturing.
Figure 61: Developed by ArianeGroup within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program, this small-scale combustion chamber demonstrator helps to investigate flow and heat transfer phenomena on surfaces created by 3D printing – otherwise known as additive layer manufacturing. The photograph shows the combustion chamber and injector head, with the adapter rings for the DLR testing facility between them and a mounting plate. To the front, right is the igniter (image credit: ArianeGroup Holding, Jürgen Dannenberg)
Figure 62: The hot firing on 18 February 2019 of a full-scale rocket thrust chamber assembly proves 3D-printing for an engine design destined for rocket upper stages, in-orbit transportation applications (kick-stages and space-tugs), microlaunchers, and exploration spacecraft such as a lunar lander and ascent stage on the Moon (image credit: ArianeGroup / DLR)
- Additive layer manufacturing builds up a part layer by layer instead of the traditional process of cutting away bulk material. Complex, optimized structures, impossible to manufacture via classical methods, can be created using reduced amounts of material and energy, and in far fewer manufacturing steps.
- A complex arrangement of cooling channels has been printed into the structure of the combustion chamber, to cool the chamber walls.
- “3D-printing and qualifying parts for hot-firing and ultimately flight is a challenge, especially when dealing with fine, complicated structures, like the cooling channels of our demonstrator” added Wenzel Schoroth, propulsion engineer at ESA. “This hot-fire test is a way of demonstrating the effectiveness of our processes, as well as learning more about the flow phenomena within additively manufactured rocket engines.” On the test bench, the cooling mechanism is diverted away from the propellant feed via an adapter between the combustion chamber and the injector head – both of which have been additively manufactured.
Figure 63: Preparing the thrust chamber demonstrator (image credit: ArianeGroup Holding, Jürgen Dannenberg)
- This allows engineers greater flexibility to investigate the cooling system separately from the combustion process to study the thermodynamic and fluid dynamic properties of the additively manufactured structures and surfaces.
- Further activities will focus on the application of green, environmentally friendly propellants for a larger engine delivering 5 kN of thrust.
- Additionally, ESA is developing additive manufacturing technology for larger engine demonstrators with cryogenic propellants such as Prometheus and ETID.
• January 11, 2019: Here's the finalized frame of the mobile gantry that will cover Ariane 6 pre-launch. Completed on November 30 2018, even though it is 90 meters tall and weighs more than the Eiffel Tower, the entire structure is able to move on rails to uncover Ariane 6 as shortly as possible before takeoff. 60)
Figure 64: Photo of the Ariane 6 future launch site (image credit: ESA/CNES – Sentinel: G. Berthier)
• December 6, 2018: This has been an intense year for Ariane 6 development, with progress boosted across Europe: plants are manufacturing new parts using novel methods, all engines have been tested, and the construction of launch facilities is well underway. 61)
- ESA has worked with an industrial network led by prime contractor ArianeGroup, of more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, including 350 small- and medium-sized enterprises, to fine-tune the design and start production. Meanwhile, France’s CNES space agency has been preparing its launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. 62) 63)
• October 25, 2018: Today, the ESA Council met at ministerial level in Madrid to discuss the proposal of ESA’s Director General Jan Wörner for a “United Europe in Space”. — At this meeting, a joint statement on the institutional exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C was signed by Jan Wörner, ESA Director General; Roberto Battiston, President at Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI); Javier Ponce, Director General at the Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial (CDTI); Jean-Yves Le Gall, President at the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES); Walther Pelzer, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR); and Mauro Dell’ Ambrogio, Secretary of State of the Swiss Confederation. 64)
- Through this Statement, the signatories express their full support to the European launcher industry and to Ariane 6 and Vega-C. They recognize the benefit of aggregating their institutional demand for launch services to ensure an independent, cost-effective, affordable, and reliable access to space for Europe.
- The Joint Statement also establishes a high-level forum with the objective to exchange on economic and financial trends on the worldwide launch service market, launch services needs for their missions, and consolidation of a European institutional launch planning. This forum will be open to all European institutional customers of launch services and interested potential parties sharing these objectives.
Figure 65: European institutions support Europe's launcher industry. At the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in Madrid, Spain on 25 October 2018, European institutions signed a Joint Statement on European Institutional Exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C.
Legend to Figure 65: Pictured from left to right: Javier Ponce Martínez, Director General at CDTI; Walther Pelzer, member of the DLR Executive Board; Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy; Pedro Duque, Spain's Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities; Jan Wörner, ESA Director General; Mauro Dell’ Ambrogio, State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation; Stefano Gualandris, Special Advisor to State Secretary Giancarlo Giorgetti; Jean-Yves Le Gall, President at CNES; Roberto Battiston, President at ASI.
The statement was signed by the European Space Agency, the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), the Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial (CDTI), the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) and the Swiss Confederation.
Figure 66: Artist's view of Ariane 6 and Vega-C (image credit: ESA, D. Ducros)
Ariane 6 is Europe’s newest launcher, designed to extend guaranteed access to space for Europe at a competitive price. Fully versatile, it is capable of carrying out all types of missions to all orbits. It features a modular design with two versions: Ariane 62, fitted with two P120C boosters, and Ariane 64, with four. Its maiden flight is planned for mid-2020.
Vega-C is expected to debut at the end of 2019 with P120C as the first-stage motor, which will increase performance from Vega’s current 1.5 t to about 2.2 t in a reference 700 km polar orbit. The additional performance, improved avionics, mission flexibility and expanded fairing volume can capture a wider market of satellites.
• September 20, 2018: The 700 ton steel table that will support Ariane 6 at liftoff is now on the pad at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. 65)
- This structure is so large that it arrived in parts by ship in February, was then welded together and fitted with equipment at a preparation area about 250 m from the launch pad.
- Moving this giant 4 m high, 20 m long and 18 m wide table into its permanent position on the center of the pad is complex. Four hydraulic jacks lifted the table, then two trollies moved the table to the edge of the launch pad. A temporary railway and a mechanical guidance system helped roll the table into position over the center of the pad where it will be lowered with millimeter precision into its final position in the coming days. - Further mechanical, fluidic and electrical equipment will be installed inside and outside the table.
- Activities at Europe’s Spaceport continue to make headway with the next major works involving the integration of the mast as well as the exhaust ‘deflector’ that will sit at the base of the concrete flame duct reaching 25 m below the launch table.
- Ariane 6’s first flight is planned for mid-2020.
• September 18, 2018: At the end of 2019, Vega-C will be launched from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana increasing performance from Vega’s current 1.5 t to about 2.2 t in its reference 700 km polar orbit, with no increase in launch costs. 66)
- Vega-C's first stage is based on the P120, the largest single segment carbon fiber solid-propellant rocket motor ever built. It was successfully tested in July 2018. Its development relies on new technologies derived from Vega’s current first stage P80 motor. Two or four P120C motors will also be used for the liftoff boosters on Ariane 6.
- Vega-C’s 3.3 m diameter fairing will accommodate larger payloads such as Earth observation satellites of more than two tonnes, and ESA’s Space Rider reentry vehicle.
- The Vega launch pad and mobile gantry are being modified to accommodate Vega-C leading into a period when launch facilities will accommodate both vehicles.
• September 11, 2018: Arianespace is present at World Satellite Business Week (WSBW) from September 10 to 14 in Paris, confirming the attractiveness of its launcher family with the announcement of two contracts for Ariane 6: the first with Eutelsat as part of a launch services agreement involving five satellites; and the second with France’s CNES space agency and the country’s DGA defense procurement agency for the CSO-3 ( Composante Spatiale Optique-3) satellite of the MUSIS (Multinational Space-based Imaging System) program. A third contract also was signed recently with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for Ariane 5 missions to orbit two satellites. 67)
- Arianespace’s backlog is now 59 launches to be carried out during the coming years, including three on Vega C and five on Ariane 6 – the new launchers slated to make their maiden flights in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
- As World Satellite Business Week opened its doors, Arianespace and Eutelsat announced the signature of a multi-year multiple-launch agreement concerning five satellites to be launched through 2027, making Eutelsat the first commercial Ariane 6 customer with geostationary orbit satellite payloads. For institutional missions, after the two launch contracts signed in 2017 for the European Commission and ESA’s Galileo constellation, CNES and the DGA have chosen the A62 version of Ariane 6 (with two boosters) to launch their CSO-3 satellite. These orders clearly reflect the competitiveness and versatility of Ariane 6, which will be available in two versions to handle all orbits and multiple payload configurations under the fairing.
• July 16, 2018: Today's hot firing of the P120C solid-propellant motor at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana proves its flight-worthiness for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020. 68) 69)
- This marks an important milestone in the development schedule of Europe’s new-generation launchers, designed to boost our autonomy in the space arena, and maintain Europe’s global competitiveness.
- The test lasted 135 seconds simulating the complete burn time from liftoff and through the first phase of flight. No anomalies were seen and the performance met expectations, though full analysis will take several months.
- The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter and is made using a carbon composite material and built in one segment. It will replace the current P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.
- This test was a collaboration between ESA, France’s CNES space agency, and Europropulsion under contract to Avio and ArianeGroup. — The next static firing will occur at the end of this year with the P120C qualification motor.
Figure 67: The hot firing of the development model of the P120C solid fuel rocket motor at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 16 July 2018, proves the design for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020 (image credit: ESA, CNES)
• July 12, 2018: Arianespace has forged forward with a production line, named the B-Line, that includes the world’s most powerful robot, capable of handling nozzles weighing in excess of 2 tons, measuring nearly 3 meters in height and 2.2 meters in diameter. The B-Line is for manufacturing the solid rocket booster P120C motor being used by both future European launchers, Ariane 6 and Vega-C. In doing so they have officially opened a facility at Le Haillan, near Bordeaux, in the heart of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region. 70)
- The production line (known as the B-Line), to produce nozzles for the solid rocket booster P120C motor is the first of a new series of production lines for Ariane 6, which was inaugurated by ArianeGroup in 2018, while the P120C booster will be tested at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou.
- And there's more, including the stage assembly buildings for Ariane 6 in Bremen, Germany, and Les Mureaux, France, which are also being finalized in preparation for the first Ariane 6 flight, scheduled for mid-2020.
- This 1,600 m2 unit, christened B-Line, is designed to produce up to 35 nozzles per year for the P120C solid propellant booster, an output that is three times higher than that of the current Ariane 5 boosters.
- The P120C (for “Common”) is the core of the rationalization process for the European launchers range, as it will be used for the boosters powering the Ariane 62 (2 boosters) and Ariane 64 (4 boosters) as well as for the first stage of the Vega-C launcher. Its lift-off thrust can reach more than 4500 kN and, when loaded with 142 tons of propellant, the booster can function in flight for 130 seconds. It is assembled in French Guiana by Europropulsion, a 50/50 subsidiary of ArianeGroup and Avio.
- Alain Charmeau, CEO of ArianeGroup stated that the nozzle produced on the new B-Line in Le Haillan contributes to meeting the targets of the Ariane 6 and Vega-C programs, with optimized costs and shorter cycles, based on a simplified design and the use of innovative technologies and processes. He wishes to thank all the teams at ArianeGroup and those of their industrial partners, who have demonstrated their adaptability in enabling this new production unit to be delivered in record time, thus contributing to the success of the P120C program. With this B-Line in Bordeaux and the V-Line in Vernon in Normandy, inaugurated at the end of 2016 for final assembly of the Vinci® and Vulcain®2.1 engines for Ariane 6, ArianeGroup has unique production resources and know-how in the field of solid and liquid propulsion. They are supplementing these resources with the Ariane 6 stage assembly buildings currently under construction in Bremen, Germany, for the upper stage and at Les Mureaux, in France, for the main stage. With these facilities, ArianeGroup and its industrial partners will be ready for the first launch of Vega-C in 2019 and of Ariane 6 in 2020.
• July 9, 2018: This week, the largest solid rocket motor ever built in one piece will be test fired at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana for the first time. This important milestone validates the booster for use on Vega-C next year and on Ariane 6 from 2020. 71)
- The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, contains 142 tons of solid propellant and provides a maximum thrust of 4615 kN (in vacuum) over a burn time of about 135 s.
- The design builds on existing expertise and lessons learned with Vega’s P80 first stage motor. P120C will replace P80 as the first stage motor of Vega-C. Two or four P120Cs will be strapped onto Ariane 6 as boosters for liftoff.
- All main components of the motor such as nozzle, igniter, solid propellant, and insulated motor case have already been tested separately. This static firing will prove these technologies, materials and production techniques in combination and validate the behavior of the assembled motor.
- The test stand with the tools and equipment that will secure the P120C for its test firing, have had to be modified or developed to accommodate this huge motor.
- Recently a full-scale model of the P120C filled with inert propellant allowed engineers to verify tools, check connections and perfect procedures.
- Information gathered during this static firing will allow engineers to compare their numerical models against observed reality to consolidate the P120C design.
- This will guide the design of the P120C qualification motor that will be static fired at the end of the year.
Figure 68: Largest-ever solid rocket motor poised for first hot firing (image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)
• June 20, 2018: Fully loaded with 142 tons of solid fuel, the development model of the P120C rocket motor was transferred from the integration building to the test stand at the beginning of June 2018 to prepare for its first static hot firing at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. 72)
Figure 69: P120C rocket motor transfer to test stand at Europe's Spaceport. The P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter, contains 142 tons of solid propellant and is the largest-ever solid rocket motor built in one piece (image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)
Figure 70: P120C rocket motor transfer to test stand (image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)
• June 21, 2018: Aviation and space technology company MT Aerospace AG in Augsburg, Germany, a subsidiary of the technology group OHB SE, has officially opened the new production facilities for the Ariane 6. 73)
- MT Aerospace has built a new hall in Augsburg with a floor area of around 2,500 m2, retooled a further production hall and digitized its entire development and production operations with the financial support of ESA (European Space Agency). State-of-the-art welding systems, machine-to-machine communications as well as modernized drilling and riveting robots ensure more efficient and cheaper production processes.
- With an industrial contribution of a good 10 percent, MT Aerospace is playing a crucial role in the development and industrialization of the Ariane 6 launcher system. At the heart of the productivity gains and this quantum technological leap is the large FSW (Friction Stir Welding) system. Installed at the beginning of 2018, the system for welding light metals is one of a kind anywhere in the world. The new process permits efficient light-weight engineering, permitting considerable weight savings, something which is a crucial factor in aviation and aerospace engineering.
- MT Aerospace CEO Hans J. Steininger said with the company's leap into the Industry 4.0 era, the firm is tripling productivity and playing a material role in driving forward technological innovations and the competitiveness of the future Ariane 6 launch vehicle.
Figure 71: Guests of honor from politics and the industry attending the inauguration of the production facilities for the new European launch vehicle Ariane 6 (image credit: MT Aerospace AG)
• June 15, 2018: Yesterday’s complex hot fire test of an engine technology demonstrator, was the first in a series of planned tests guiding Europe’s next-generation upper-stage rocket engine design. 74) 75)
Figure 72: An engine technology demonstrator was integrated in the P3.2 vacuum chamber at the DLR German Aerospace Center test facility in Lampoldshausen for a first hot fire test on 14 June 2018. This was the first in a series of planned tests guiding Europe’s next-generation upper-stage rocket engine design (image credit: DLR / ArianeGroup)
- By the end of the year, the ETID (Expander-cycle Technology Integrated Demonstrator) will be ignited 20 times with each firing lasting up to 120 seconds on a test stand that provides a near-vacuum environment similar to space.
- Engineers will use the results from the test campaign to determine the hardware characteristics, including a precise thrust measurement to determine its “specific impulse” – indicating the exact performance of the engine design. Its results also have relevance for the in-development Vinci engine, which powers the upper stage of Ariane 6.
- Led by ArianeGroup in Germany, the ETID project is part of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program.
ESA’s Light Satellite Launch Opportunities Initiative
Vega, Vega-C and Ariane-6 are set to offer low-cost, standardized launch services for small satellites under 500 kg, with a first opportunity in 2019. Though small satellites are increasing their share of the space market with many valuable applications, the opportunities to reach space often fall short of meeting their mission needs. 76)
ESA’s light satellite launch opportunities initiative is investigating possible low-cost launch services based on Ariane-6, Vega and Vega-C efficiently combining payloads in the same mission and offering a standardized service to customers. The aim is to serve a wide variety of small satellites, from CubeSats to microsats and minisats, technology demonstrators to mega-constellations. While services would initially serve European institutional needs, the broader long-term objective is to reach the commercial market.
A series of proof-of-concept flights will demonstrate that Europe can provide economically sustainable access to space for light satellite missions. The first is a rideshare mission planned for early 2019 on Vega using the versatile Small Satellites Mission Service dispenser, designed to deploy multiple light satellites below 500 kg.
This will bring socioeconomic benefits to Europe, particularly in the light satellite applications business, and optimize the Ariane-6 and Vega launch capacities managed by Arianespace at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Activities started on 16 February 2018 with the prime contractor Arianespace, and with Arianegroup and Avio for the Ariane-6 and Vega-C launcher systems, respectively.
Figure 73: Vega’s versatile Small Satellites Mission Service dispenser developed within ESA’s Light satellite Launch opportunities initiative is designed to deploy multiple light satellites below 500 kg (image credit: ESA) 77)
Figure 74: ESA’s Light satellite Launch opportunities initiative is investigating possible low-cost launch service solutions based on Ariane-6, Vega and Vega-C that efficiently combine payloads in the same mission and offer a standardized service to customers (image credit: ESA)
June 4, 2019: More than 40 satellite missions will be launched at once by Europe’s Vega launcher this autumn, thanks to the innovative modular “Lego-style” dispenser resting on its upper stage. 78)
- Up until now the smallest classes of satellites – all the way down to tiny CubeSats, built from 10 cm modular boxes – have typically ‘piggybacked’ to orbit. They have to make use of any spare capacity as a single large satellite is launched, meaning their overall launch opportunities are limited.
- “The new Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) switches this into a ‘ride-share’ model, with multiple small satellites being flown together, splitting the launch cost through economy class tickets,” comments Giorgio Tumino, managing ESA’s Vega development programs.
- “Our development of this new SSMS dispenser – able to group together different satellites from 1 kg to 400 kg in mass – is a response to the market for these small- and microsatellite missions, which has grown exponentially in recent years.”
- The inaugural ‘proof of concept’ flight of Vega’s SSMS dispenser will take place this September, with 41 separate passengers: seven small satellites plus 35 CubeSats in all. Included in that total are a trio of ESA CubeSats: the SIMBA mission studying Earth’s radiation budget, ozone-measuring Picasso and PhiSat, investigating the application of artificial intelligence to Earth observation.
- Giorgio adds: “Regular follow-on SSMS flights are planned for 2020 onwards, once the more powerful Vega-C launcher begins operations. This will offer an extra 700 kg of capacity and enlarged volume within a wider launcher fairing – at the same Vega launch cost as before – so we will be able to fly even more passengers per individual SSMS launch at significant lower cost per kilo.”
Figure 75: Vega's Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) dispenser vibration testing at Intespace Toulouse on May 22nd 2019. The SSMS dispenser with its modular design enables Vega to provide launch opportunities for light satellites with an overall mass ranging from 1 kg CubeSats up to 400 kg minisats with different alternative configurations and relevant combinations under a ‘rideshare’ concept (image credit: ESA, M. Pedoussaut)
- The SSMS dispenser has been designed to be as market-responsive as possible, able to accommodate any combination of customers, from a main large satellite with smaller companions as piggy back to multiple smaller satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats.
- “The idea of how to do this came out of an ESA study,” says Giorgio. “Basically the SSMS is composed of different modular parts, which can be put together as needed, Lego-style: a central column, tower or hexagon, a supporting platform, adjustable rods and dividers.”
Figure 76: SSMS modular parts. The SSMS dispenser has been designed to be as market-responsive as possible, able to accommodate any combination of customers, from a main large satellite with smaller companions as piggy back to multiple smaller satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats. Basically the SSMS is composed of different modular parts, which can be put together as needed, Lego-style: a central column, tower or hexagon, a supporting platform, adjustable rods and dividers (image credit: ESA)
- In a first for any ESA launcher, part of the payload integration takes place in Europe, streamlining the cost and effort required by lean small satellite companies. Satellites are placed onto the lower part of the SSMS by its manufacturer, SAB Aerospace in the Czech Republic, with the top-level satellites added at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana ahead of launch.
- This inaugural flight will deliver all its passengers to the same 550 km altitude ‘Sun synchronous orbit’, remaining lined up with the Sun for optimal Earth observing conditions. But in the future, Vega could deliver satellites to three separate orbits per SSMS flight.
- Once its target orbit is achieved the SSMS, controlled through the avionics systems in Vega’s AVUM (Attitude & Vernier Upper Module) upper stage, will deploy its satellites in coordinated fashion, with carefully planned delays in between each separation. In a matter of minutes they will all be pushed away smoothly using springs.
- When deployment is completed the AVUM will deorbit itself and its SSMS dispenser, fulfilling stringent international space debris regulations governing low-Earth orbit.
- The three-stage solid propellant Vega launcher with a liquid-fuelled re-ignitable AVUM upper stage has been flying since 2012. Its SSMS dispenser is only one of a range of current developments, to allow Vega to respond to the full portfolio of market needs.
- ”We aim to affordably fly everything from a 1 kg CubeSat all the way up to a 2.3 ton satellite, with still greater capacity on the way through our Vega Evolution program.
- “And as well as the SSMS for several small payloads, we have the Vespa adapter for dual medium size payloads, in addition to the baseline Vampire adapter for single large payloads. The reusable Space Rider system is also under development for payloads requiring return to Earth, as well as the Venus electric-propulsion module under definition for missions to higher orbits.”
- Adding to Vega’s competitiveness is a perfect safety record, with 14 out of 14 launches successful. “ESA, our prime contractor Avio and all our partner companies are fully committed to delivering a successful product,” says Giorgio.
Figure 77: Vega payload carriers and Space Rider (image credit: ESA)
“And ESA’s core Vega Integrated Program Team at ESRIN draws expertise from wherever is available, working closely with ESA’s Directorate of Technology Quality and Engineering and Directorate of Operations, the Italian space agency ASI and the French space agency CNES. Working with all the best available competencies in Europe is a strong reason for our success to date.”
Prometheus Engine Demonstrator Program
Prometheus is an ESA program, initiated with the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales). The contract awarded to ArianeGroup by ESA in December 2017 covers the design, construction and testing of the first two examples of the very low cost engine demonstrator, which uses liquid oxygen and methane technology and is potentially reusable. — Prometheus is a precursor of the future engines intended for use by Europe’s launchers by 2030.
A concept conceived by the ArianeGroup, entitled the Prometheus engine, has just been finalized. The Definition Review of the Prometheus engine demonstrator together with the support of the European Space Agency, CNES and DLR gave their approval on February 1, 2019. 79)
• Prometheus demonstrates the pertinence of the design and the technological choices made and confirms the program's ambitious cost objectives
• Prometheus is the European demonstrator for a very low cost and potentially reusable engine
• The bench tests of the first two examples of the engine are scheduled for as early as 2020.
The innovative technologies and industrial processes developed for this demonstrator program will also be used for the propulsion upgrades of Ariane 6. The Definition Review of the program was held from 30 November to 1 February 2019 on the ArianeGroup sites in Vernon (France) and Ottobrunn (Germany). It was carried out by ArianeGroup and ESA teams supported by experts from the French and German space agencies, CNES and DLR.
According to André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup : ”This successful milestone of the Prometheus program shows that the teams at ArianeGroup and their partners were able to create an innovative design in an extremely short period of time, barely one year after contract signature with ESA. This success demonstrates the pertinence of our technological choices and confirms the ambitious cost objectives we set for ourselves. It perfectly illustrates the efficiency of the new working methods we implemented with our European partners. This step is extremely important, less than one year before Space19+, the ESA Ministerial Conference. It encouraged us to be ever more daring in terms of technological developments, organization and working methods, so that we could make the European launchers always more competitive to fulfill the missions for our institutional and commercial customers. Thank you to all the teams for this crucial success, which encourages space Europe to go still further.”
The goal of the Prometheus demonstrator is to be able to build future liquid propellant engines in the 100 tons thrust class, for a cost ten times less than that involved in building an existing engine such as the Vulcain®2.
The success of a technological challenge of this nature depends on a completely new design: over and above the change in the traditional Ariane propellant (switching from the liquid oxygen and hydrogen combination to liquid oxygen and methane), the demonstrator will entail major changes, including digitization of engine control and diagnostics. It also depends on the use of innovative design and production methods and tools, including construction using 3D printing in a connected factory environment.
The next major milestone of the program is the Manufacturing Readiness Review (MRR) to start the production of two demonstrators in the first half of 2019. Testing of those two examples is scheduled on the P5 test stand at the DLR in Lampoldshausen (Germany) in 2020.
• June 4, 2020: ESA’s Prometheus is the precursor of ultra-low-cost rocket propulsion that is flexible enough to fit a fleet of new launch vehicles for any mission and will be potentially reusable. 80)
- At the Space19+ Council meeting in Seville, Spain last November, ESA received full funding to bring the current Prometheus engine design to a technical maturity suitable for industry. Developed by ArianeGroup, Prometheus is now seen as key in the effort to prepare competitive future European access to space.
- By applying a design-to-cost approach to manufacturing Prometheus, ESA aims to lower the cost of production by a factor of ten of the current main stage Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine.
- Features such as variable thrust, multiple ignitions, suitability for main and upper stage application, and minimized ground operations before and after flight also make Prometheus a highly flexible engine.
- This Prometheus precursor runs on liquid oxygen–methane which brings high efficiency, allows standardization and operational simplicity. Methane propellant is also widely available and easy to handle.
- In the short term it is likely that operational engines will benefit from the application of Prometheus technologies.
Figure 78: Example Prometheus flight configuration (image credit: ESA, ArianeGroup)
- Upcoming tests overseen by ArianeGroup at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Lampoldshausen testing facility in Germany will validate the hardware components for the first Prometheus engine test model (M1).
- In preparation, the P5 test bench will gain a 250 m3 capacity propellant tank for methane. This will allow engineers to efficiently switch test configurations between Prometheus and Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine, also in development.
- Main subsystems are being manufactured. The first elements built last year benefited from new methods such as additive layer manufacturing (ALM) which speeds up production, achieves fewer parts and greatly reduces costs.
- ALM builds a structure layer by layer, which is much quicker and easier than the traditional process of cutting away bulk material. Complex, optimized parts, impossible to manufacture via classical methods, can be created using less material and energy, and in far fewer manufacturing steps.
Figure 79: 3D-printed turbo pump for Prometheus rocket engine (image credit: ESA, ArianeGroup)
- Components manufactured and now ready to test include the turbo pump’s turbine, pump inlet and gas generator valves. March will see the delivery of the chamber valves and on-board rocket engine computer for engine management and monitoring – the part that makes this a ‘smart’ engine and potentially reusable.
- The first combustion chamber model is expected at the end of June while the combustion chamber for M1 will be delivered in December 2020.
- Engineers will assemble the M1 full-scale demonstrator at the end of this year for testing on the ground in 2021 (Figure 80).
- Further Prometheus engines will be built for testing into the future.
- Also within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program, Arianeworks is currently preparing an in-flight reusable vehicle demonstration called Themis, which will incorporate the Prometheus precursor engine.
- Prometheus represents a breakthrough in terms of cost and manufacturing and its robust design is the baseline for future evolutions of Ariane to 2030.
• February 21, 2019: ArianeGroup CEO André-Hubert Roussel and CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Paris to create an acceleration platform dedicated to the preparation of future launchers. To be called ArianeWorks, the new platform will boost innovation for future launcher development by bringing teams together under one roof and connecting them to Europe’s space ecosystem. 81)
- Both longstanding stakeholders in the Ariane series, ArianeGroup and CNES are currently developing Ariane 6 for ESA. Since 2015, they have been working together to conceive the Prometheus rocket engine, prior to ESA’s successful tabling of the related program at its 2016 Ministerial Conference. Prometheus is currently under development, with the first prototype due to be tested in two years. CNES and ArianeGroup are also working together on the development of Callisto—a reusable first stage demonstrator—alongside DLR and JAXA.
- With a view to boosting future launcher preparation, CNES and ArianeGroup have opted for a step change by creating a new kind of partnership where teams work together in a highly flexible environment, open to new players and internationally, with the key goal of accelerating the Ariane Next roadmap and in particular its first phase, the Themis demonstrator. ArianeWorks is being created in the lead up to the 2019 Ministerial Conference and its results will be made available to ESA.
- In this era of NewSpace and in the context of fierce competition, ArianeWorks will accelerate innovation at grassroots level, in favor of mid-tier firms and start-ups, with commitment to reducing costs a major priority. The goal is to work together closely through this first phase up to April 2020 by inspiring and involving new players, not least pioneering start-ups, laboratories, SMEs and manufacturers. ArianeWorks will also act as a pathfinder, able to accurately assess the technological context in order to make the right choices within the shortest timescales. This calls for an approach resolutely geared towards open innovation, to encourage the exchange of expertise and spawn a ground-breaking new ecosystem.
- André-Hubert Roussel added: “ArianeWorks aims to accelerate the innovation process, in order to prepare for future developments of Ariane by involving new players and attracting new types of funding. It also gives us an opportunity to support the emergence of deep tech through access to dedicated funding, while accepting the risks involved in terms of investment and technological development.”
- CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said: “Ariane is one of Europe’s greatest technological, industrial and commercial success stories, and we must pursue that success in the face of strong international competition. The role of ArianeWorks is to prepare, at French level, the proposals for future launchers to be presented at Europe’s next Ministerial Conference. These include, in particular, the roadmap for Ariane Next and for its first phase, the Themis demonstrator.”
• December 14, 2017: An ultra-low cost reusable rocket engine, Prometheus, using liquid oxygen–methane propellants, is set to power Europe’s future launchers. 82)
- Today, ESA and ArianeGroup signed a contract to develop a full-scale demonstrator to be ground tested in November 2020.
- Prometheus demonstrates the systematic application of an extreme design-to-cost approach, new propellant and innovative manufacturing technologies.
- It lowers costs to a tenth of those for Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine.
- Additive layer-by-layer manufacturing of engine parts enables faster production, with fewer parts.
- Key characteristics of Prometheus include a computer system enabling realtime adjustment and immediate diagnosis for potential reusability.
- Methane propellant is widely available and brings high efficiency, standardization and operational simplicity, making it a perfect candidate for a reusable booster engine demonstration.
- By 2020, technical knowledge of liquid oxygen–methane propulsion gained through the Prometheus project will allow fast and informed decisions to be made on useful applications.
- Prometheus provides a nominal 1 MN of variable thrust, is suitable for first- and second-stage applications, and is reignitable. It will propel a range of next-generation launchers, including future evolutions of Ariane 6.
- The Prometheus contract, worth €75 million, was signed by ESA Director of Space Transportation, Daniel Neuenschwander, and Alain Charmeau, CEO at ArianeGroup, at ESA headquarters in Paris in the presence of ESA Director General Jan Wörner.
- The project is part of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program
- “Prometheus will power Europe's future launchers, forging a path of continuous improvement in competitiveness,” commented Alain Neuenschwander.
- The project benefits from significant synergies with other launcher demonstration projects within ESA, national agencies and industry.
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68) ”Hot firing proves solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega-C,” ESA, 16.07.2018, URL: http://m.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Transportation/
69) ”First hot firing of P120C motor for Vega-C and Ariane 6,” ESA, 16 July 2018, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/07/
70) ”ArianeGroup's New French Production Line Includes the World's Most Powerful Robot to Build Nozzles,” Satnews Daily, 12 July 2018, URL: http://www.satnews.com/story.php?number=1771765594
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74) ”First hot firing of next-generation rocket engine,” ESA, 15 June 2018, URL: http://www.esa.int
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77) ”Deploying multiple small satellites,” ESA, 15 March 2018, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/03/Deploying_multiple_small_satellites
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space,” ESA, Space Engineering & Technology, 4 June 2019,
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).