One year from now, Arianespace is expected to be halfway between the first flights of two new launchers, the clean-sheet-design Ariane 6 and the upgraded Vega C. As if these were not enough to keep the company’s engineers busy, the European space industry is also stepping up studies for reusable successors. The simultaneous advancements, taking place even though European institutions and governments have yet to put their money where their mouth is, signal a sense of urgency in view of vigorous competition from abroad.
Neither launch service operator Arianespace nor parent company and manufacturer ArianeGroup is exhibiting at the Paris Air Show, although they did in 2017. An ArianeGroup representative cites cost reasons and the fact that the event at Le Bourget is “not a space show.” The future of Europe’s space industry will nevertheless be discussed in the chalets and on the stands, particularly when French ministers visit the show.
The Ariane 6 medium-to-heavy-lift launcher program, Europe’s answer to the lower-cost services offered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9, seems to be on time for first launch in 2020.
Arianespace had hoped for a first launch on July 16, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s trip to the Moon in 1969. Andre-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup, now says the launch will take place “from July 2020,” in coordination with the first customer. Thirty OneWeb communications satellites will be on board the Ariane 62, the lighter version of the launcher, with two strap-on boosters.
“Manufacturing of ground-test and flight hardware is in full swing,” says Roussel. The test phase for the engines is nearing completion. The only remaining task for the Vulcain 2.1 engine for the main stage and Vinci for the upper stage consists of paperwork, and they are therefore “almost qualified,” says Roussel.
A hot-firing trial of the entire upper stage is scheduled for “late this year or early next year” at a DLR test facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany, he says.
The P120C is a solid rocket motor to be used both as a booster on Ariane 6 and as the first stage of the Vega C light launcher. It has undergone two test firings at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. A third test, in a configuration close to that of Ariane 6, is planned for the second half of this year.
The Ariane 6’s main subassemblies—including tanks, interstage structures and engines—are ready, Roussel confirms. Once assembled, the main stage will be shipped from Les Mureaux, west of Paris. The upper stage will travel from Bremen, Germany.
Seen from Kourou, the program is progressing in a spectacular way. The launcher assembly building is complete, says Jean-Marc Astorg, director of launchers at French space agency CNES. The spaceport, known as the CSG, is run by CNES.