Image Courtesy European Space Agency.
The Ariane 6 Launcher
Ariane 6 will replace Ariane 5 as the European Space Agency’s prime launch vehicle. It began development in the early 2010s, and developers produced early designs between 2012 and 2015. It was originally due to launch in 2020, but after numerous funding delays, the launch has been pushed back to mid-2022.
To solidify its position as a flexible launcher, Ariane 6 will come in two versions: Ariane 62 and Ariane 64. The primary difference is the number of strap-on boosters; the 62 will have two and the 64 four. Importantly, this impacts the size the of payload it can carry.
Ariane 6 is 63 metres tall and has an unloaded mass of 860 tons. When equipped with its payload, this increases to almost 900 tons. As mentioned, the different rockets will carry payloads to different orbits as follows:
- · Ariane 62 will carry small payloads of 4.5 tons to geostationary orbit and payloads of 10.3 tons to LOE.
- · Ariane 64 will carry payloads of 11.5 tons to geostationary orbit and payloads of 20.6 tons to LOE.
It will offer piggyback options for smaller payloads of less than 200 kg, allowing several satellites to share a launch. This is part of the ESA’s Low-cost Launch Initiative and is an improvement on sending one launcher with a small payload. While this is not the first launcher to feature such a setup, it is a sign that it is becoming the industry standard.
Ariane 6 has three stages for launch. The first includes the strap-on boosters alongside its Vulcain 2.1 engine, an upgrade on Ariane 5’s engine. Next is the Vinci engine, which is reignitable so the launcher can reach several orbits on a single mission. The Vinci engine can ignite up to three times, along with a final burn when re-entering orbit.
Ariane 6 vs. Ariane 5
Aside from being taller, heavier, and capable of carrying larger payloads, the main difference between Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 is flexibility. The latter is designed to halve the cost of launches while doubling the launch schedule from six to 12 a year.
Ariane 6 builds on the success of its predecessor, following its (comparatively) simple and standardised production capabilities. There is only one design of Ariane 5 currently in use, meaning greater availability for launches.
Of course, creating two versions of Ariane 6 changes this slightly, but the components for each are almost identical. The main difference is the number of boosters and the size of the fairing; for Ariane 62, it is 14 or 20 metres, and for Ariane 64, it is 20 metres.
But, this is a minor consideration, as the components will still be readily available. Ariane 6 takes everything that worked for Ariane 5 and improves it to provide more frequent and flexible launches for a wide range of satellite applications.
Ariane 6 Planned Launches
There are already numerous contracts for Ariane 6 launches, including Eutelsat, Galileo satellites, and Galaxy 37 communication satellites. While Ariane 6 is not necessarily revolutionary, it is a step up from current European launcher technology. Also, it highlights the industry shift towards ride-sharing launches, a cost-effective initiative for future satellite use.