Ariane 6 rocket maiden flight on July 9th, 2024

Ariane 6 rocket maiden flight on July 9th, 2024

The Ariane 6 rocket represents a European expendable launch system that has been in development since the early 2010’s by ArianeGroup on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). The launcher serves as the successor to the Ariane 5 within the Ariane launch vehicle family. The core objective of Ariane 6, as of 2015, was to significantly reduce costs compared to Ariane 5 while also increasing the potential number of annual launches from six or seven to as many as eleven.

Managed by launch operator Arianespace, Ariane 6 features a two-stage design, with both stages powered by liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen (hydrolox) engines. The initial stage employs an enhanced version of the Vulcain engine, previously utilized in the Ariane 5, while the second stage boasts the newly engineered Vinci engine. The primary thrust during liftoff comes from solid rocket boosters affixed to the first stage: either two or four P120 units (found in the Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 variations, respectively), which are enlarged iterations of the P80 boosters found on the Vega rocket.

ESA finalized the design concept selection in December 2014, opting for this configuration over an all-solid-fuel rocket alternative. High-level design refinement was concluded in 2015, and the vehicle transitioned into the detailed design phase in 2016. In 2017, ESA established July 16th, 2020 as the target for its inaugural flight, and Arianespace issued the first production order in May 2019. Despite encountering a series of delays, as of October 2022, Arianespace indicated that the inaugural launch is anticipated to take place in the fourth quarter of 2023 but has been moved already to Q1 2024.

Arianespace is one of the world’s leading satellite launch companies, operating a full family of launchers: Ariane 5 for heavy lift spacecraft, the Soyuz for medium size and Vega for light weight spacecraft.

The French multinational company was the world’s first commercial launch service provider and operates five locations worldwide for the production, operation and marketing of the Ariane program. Arianespace operates its launch services from South America (at the Spaceport in French Guiana) and Central Asia (at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazachstan).

The company was founded in 1980 and has its headquarters in Courcouronnes, France, near Paris. Arianespace, a subsidiary of The Arianegroup, launched more than 550 satellites since 1980. Total revenues in 2018 exceeded 1.4 billion euros.

On October 21st 2011 Arianespace launched the first Soyuz rocket ever from outside former Soviet territory. The payload was two Galileo navigation satellites.

Arianespace primary shareholders are its suppliers, in the various nations of the EU. Arianespace currently has 20 shareholders with France as the largest stakeholder (64%) in the Ariane development program. Other countries that support the program are Germany (20%), Belgium (3,5%), Denmark, Spain (2%), Italy (3%), The Netherlands (2%), Norway (0,1%), Sweden and Switzerland (2,7%).

Arianespace launched satellites for all major satellite operators, such as IntelsatEutelsatTelesatSKY Perfect JSAT from Japan, ISRO from IndiaHellas-Sat (ArabSat) and many others.

Arianespace has operated various versions of the Ariane since the first launch in 1979:

Ariane 1, max payload mass 1.83 tonnes, first successful launch on December 24th 1979.
Ariane 2, max payload mass 2,27 tonnes, first successful launch on November 20th 1987.
Ariane 3, max payload mass 2,65 tonnes, first successful launch on August 4th 1984.
Ariane 4, with 6 versions: 40 (max payload mass 2,0 tonnes), 42P (max payload mass 2,7 tonnes), 44P (max payload mass 3.1 tonnes), 42L (max payload mass 3,3 tonnes), 42LP (max payload mass 3,8 tonnes), 44LP (max payload mass 4.3 tonnes), first successful launch on June 15th 1988),
Ariane 5, with 2 versions: Ariane 5ES (max payload to LEO: 21 tonnes) and Ariane 5ECA (max payload to GTO: 10,5 tonnes), first successful launch on October 30th 1997.

The new Ariane 6 rocket, developed by ArianeGroup and its European industrial partners, would have a similar payload capacity to the Ariane 5 but has considerably lower costs. Ariane 6 will be available in two versions depending on the required performance: A62 with two strap-on boosters, and A64 with four.

Ariane 6 first test flight is planned for 2024.