Ariane 6 is a launch vehicle developed and manufactured by ArianeGroup under the authority of the European Space Agency (ESA), with a first test flight scheduled for 2020. When development is completed, it will become the newest member in the Ariane launch vehicle family. The final design was selected in December 2014, favoring a liquid-fuelled core with large solid rocket boosters over the initial solid-fuel rocket design. The motivation for Ariane 6 is to replace Ariane 5 at half the cost, and allow double the number of launches each year.
Illustration of the two Ariane 6 variants planned, A62 (left) and A64 (right)
|Function||Medium-heavy launch vehicle|
|Project cost||€3.6 billion|
|Cost per launch||€90 million (Ariane 64), €75 million (Ariane 62)|
|Cost per year||2014|
|Height||63 m (207 ft)|
|Diameter||5.4 m (18 ft)|
|Mass||530,000–860,000 kg (1,170,000–1,900,000 lb)|
|Payload to GTO||A64: 11,500 kg (25,400 lb)+ |
A62: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb):33
|Payload to GEO||A64: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb):40|
|Payload to SSO||A64: 14,900 kg (32,800 lb) |
A62: 6,450 kg (14,220 lb):42
|Payload to LEO||A64: 21,650 kg (47,730 lb) |
A62: 10,350 kg (22,820 lb):45–46
|Comparable||Vulcan, H3, Titan IV, Falcon 9|
|Launch sites||Guiana Space Centre|
|First flight||2020 (planned)|
|Boosters – Equipped Solid Rocket|
|No. boosters||2 or 4|
|Diameter||3 m (9.8 ft)|
|Propellant mass||142,000 kg (313,000 lb)|
|Thrust||4,500 kN (1,000,000 lbf)|
|Core stage – Lower Liquid Propulsion Module|
|Diameter||5.4 m (18 ft)|
|Propellant mass||140,000 kg (310,000 lb)|
|Thrust||1,370 kN (310,000 lbf)|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
|Upper stage – Upper Liquid Propulsion Module|
|Diameter||5.4 m (18 ft)|
|Propellant mass||31,000 kg (68,000 lb)|
|Thrust||180 kN (40,000 lbf)|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
Two variants of Ariane 6 are being developed:
- Ariane 64, with four P120 boosters, has a liftoff weight of around 860 tonnes (1,900,000 lb) and is intended for commercial dual-satellite launches of up to 11,500 kilograms (25,400 lb) into GTO:33 and 21,500 kg (47,400 lb) into LEO.:46 Like Ariane 5, it will be able to launch two geosynchronous satellites together.
- Ariane 62, with two P120 solid boosters, will weigh around 530 tonnes (1,170,000 lb) at liftoff and is intended mainly for government and scientific missions. It can launch up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) into GTO:33 and 10,350 kg (22,820 lb) into LEO.:45
Ariane 6 comprises three major structural and propellant-carrying components.
Lower Liquid Propulsion Module
The first stage of Ariane 6 is called the Lower Liquid Propulsion Module (LLPM). It is powered by a single Vulcain 2.1 engine, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) with liquid oxygen (LOX). Vulcain 2.1 is an updated version of the Vulcain 2 engine from Ariane 5 with lower manufacturing costs. The LLPM is 5.4 metres (18 ft) in diameter and contains approximately 140 tonnes of propellant.
Additional thrust for the first stage will be provided by either two or four P120 Solid rocket boosters, known within Ariane 6 nomenclature as Equipped Solid Rockets (ESR). Each booster contains approximately 142 tonnes of propellant and delivers up to 4,500 kN (1,000,000 lbf) of thrust. The P120 motor is also first stage of the upgraded Vega C smallsat launcher. The increased production volumes through sharing motors lowers production costs.
Upper Liquid Propulsion Module
The upper stage of Ariane 6 is called the Upper Liquid Propulsion Module (ULPM). It features the same 5.4-metre (18 ft) diameter as the LLPM, and also burns liquid hydrogen with oxygen. It is powered by the Vinci engine delivering 180 kN (40,000 lbf) of thrust and enabling multiple restarts. The ULPM will carry about 31 tonnes of propellant.
Concept and early development: 2010–2015
Following detailed definition studies in 2012, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the selection of the "PPH" (first stage of three P145 rocket motors, second stage of one P145 rocket motor, and H32 cryogenic upper stage) configuration for the Ariane 6 in July 2013. This design would be composed of three P145 solid rocket motors as a first stage, a single P145 motor as a second stage, and a third stage powered by the Vinci cryogenic engine burning LH2 and LOX. It would be capable of launching up to 6,500 kg (14,300 lb) to GTO, with a first flight projected to be as early as 2021–22. Development was projected to cost €4 billion as of May 2013. A 2014 study concluded that development cost could be reduced to about 3 billion euros by limiting contractors to five countries.
While the Ariane 5 typically launches one large and one medium satellite at a time, the PPH proposal for the Ariane 6 was intended for single payloads, with an early-2014 price estimate of approximately US$95 million per launch. The SpaceX Falcon 9 and the Chinese Long March 3B both launch smaller payloads but at lower prices, approximately US$57 million and US$72 million respectively as of early 2014, making the Falcon 9 launch of a midsize satellite competitive with the cost of the lower slot of a dual payload Ariane 5. For lightweight all-electric satellites, Arianespace intended to use the restartable Vinci engine to deliver the satellites closer to their operational orbit than the Falcon 9 could, thus reducing the time required to transfer to geostationary orbit by several months.
Ariane 6.1 and Ariane 6.2 proposals
In June 2014 Airbus and Safran surprised ESA by announcing a counter proposal for the Ariane 6 project: a 50/50 joint venture to develop the rocket, which would also involve buying out the French government's CNES interest in Arianespace.
This proposed launch system would come in two variants, Ariane 6.1 and Ariane 6.2. While both would use a cryogenic main stage powered by a Vulcain 2 engine and two P145 solid boosters, Ariane 6.1 would feature a cryogenic upper stage powered by the Vinci engine and boost up to 8,500 kg (18,700 lb) to GTO, while Ariane 6.2 would use a lower-cost hypergolic upper stage powered by the Aestus engine. Ariane 6.1 would have the ability to launch two electrically powered satellites at once, while Ariane 6.2 would be focused on launching government payloads.
French newspaper La Tribune questioned whether Airbus Space Systems could deliver on the promised costs for their Ariane 6 proposal, and whether Airbus and Safran Group could be trusted when they were found to be responsible for a failure of Ariane 5 flight 517 in 2002 and a more recent 2013 failure of the M51 ballistic missile. The companies were also criticized for being unwilling to incur development risks, and asking for higher initial funding than originally planned - €2.6 billion instead of €2.3 billion. Estimated launch prices of €85 million for Ariane 6.1 and €69 million for Ariane 6.2 did not compare favorably to SpaceX offerings. During the meeting of EU ministers in Geneva on 7 June 2014, these prices were deemed too high and no agreement with manufacturers was reached.
Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 proposals
Following criticism of the Ariane 6 PPH design, France unveiled a revised Ariane 6 proposal in September 2014. This launcher would use a cryogenic main stage powered by the Vulcain 2 and upper stage powered by the Vinci, but vary the number of solid boosters. With two P120 boosters, Ariane 6 would launch up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to GTO at a cost of €75 million. With four boosters, Ariane 6 would be able to launch two satellites totaling 11,000 kg (24,000 lb) to GTO at a cost of €90 million.
This proposal, unlike Ariane 6 PPH, offered a scalable launcher while retaining Ariane 5's dual-launch capability. The proposal also included simplification of the industrial and institutional organization along with a better and cheaper version of the Vulcain 2 engine for the main stage. Although Ariane 6 was projected to have "lower estimated recurring production costs" it was projected to have "a higher overall development cost owing to the need for a new, Ariane 6-dedicated, launch pad."
The Italian, French and German space ministers met on 23 September 2014, in order to plan strategy and assess the possibility for agreement on funding for the Ariane 5 successor, and in December 2014, ESA selected the Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 designs for development and funding.
Test vehicle development: 2016–2019
In November 2015 an updated design of Ariane 64 and 62 was presented, with new nose cones on the boosters, main stage diameter increased to 5.4 metres (18 ft) and the height decreased to 60 metres (200 ft). The basic design was finalized in January 2016, advancing the development into detailed design and production phases, with the first major contracts already signed. Unlike previous Ariane rockets which are assembled and fueled vertically before being transported to the launchpad, the Ariane 6 main stages will be assembled horizontally at the new integration hall in Les Mureaux and then transported to French Guiana, where they will be erected and integrated with boosters and payload. The horizontal assembly process was inspired by the Russian tradition for Soyuz and Proton launchers — which was more recently applied to the American Delta IV and Falcon 9 boosters — with a stated goal of halving production costs. The industrial production process was completely overhauled, allowing synchronized workflow between several European production sites moving at a monthly cadence, which would enable twelve launches per year, doubling Ariane 5's yearly capacity. To further lower the price, Ariane 6 engines will use 3D printed components. Ariane 6 will be the first large rocket to use a laser ignition system developed by the Austrias Carinthian Research Center (CTR), that was previously deployed in automotive and turbine engines. A solid state laser offers an advantage over electrical ignition systems in that it is more flexible with regards to the location of the plasma within the combustion chamber, offers a much higher pulse power and can tolerate a wider range of fuel-air mixture ratios.
Reorganization of the industry behind a new launch vehicle, leading to a creation of Airbus Safran Launchers, also started a review by the French government, into tax matters, and the European Commission over a possible conflict of interest if Airbus Defence and Space, a satellite manufacturer were to purchase launches from ASL.
Other development options
CNES began studies in 2010 on an alternative, reusable first stage for Ariane 6, using a mix of liquid oxygen and liquid methane rather than hydrogen that is used in the 2016 Ariane 6 first-stage design. The methane-powered core could use one or more engines, matching capabilities of Ariane 64 with only two boosters instead of four. As of January 2015, the economic feasibility of reusing an entire stage remained in question. Concurrent with the liquid fly-back booster research in the late 1990s and early 2000s CNES along with Russia concluded studies indicating that reusing the first stage was economically unviable as manufacturing ten rockets a year was cheaper and more feasible than recovery, refurbishment and loss of performance caused by reusability. It was suggested that with Arianespace launch schedule of 12 flights per year that an engine that could be reused a dozen times would produce a demand for only one engine per year making supporting an ongoing engine manufacturing supply chain unviable.
In June 2015, Airbus Defence and Space announced that development of Adeline, a partially reusable first stage, would become operational between 2025 and 2030, and that it would be developed as a subsequent first stage for Ariane 6. Rather than developing a way to reuse an entire first stage (like SpaceX), Airbus proposed a system where only high-value parts would be safely returned using a winged module at the bottom of the rocket stack.
In August 2016 Airbus Safran Launchers gave some more details about future development plans building on the Ariane 6 design. CEO Alain Charmeau revealed that Airbus Safran were now working along two main lines: first, continuing work (at the company's own expense) on the recoverable Adeline engine-and-avionics module; and second, beginning development of a next-generation engine to be called Prometheus. This engine would have about the same thrust as the Vulcain 2 currently powering Ariane 5, but would burn methane instead of liquid hydrogen. Charmeau was non-committal about whether Prometheus (still only in the first few months of development) could be used as an expendable replacement for the Vulcain 2 in Ariane 6, or whether it was tied to the re-usable Adeline design, saying only that "We are cautious, and we prefer to speak when are sure of what we announce. ... But certainly this engine could very well fit with the first stage of Ariane 6 one day", a decision on whether to proceed with Prometheus in an expendable or reusable role could be taken between 2025-30. In 2017 the Prometheus engine project was revealed to have the aim of reducing the engine unit cost from the €10m of the Vulcain2 to €1m and allowing the engine to be reused up to five times. The engine development is said to being part of a broader effort – codename Ariane NEXT – to reduce Ariane launch costs by a factor of 2 beyond improvements brought by Ariane 6. The Ariane NEXT initiative includes a reusable sounding rocket, Callisto, to test the performance of various fuels in new engine designs.
In January 2019, Arianespace CEO, Stéphane Israël, during the interview said that the company requires four more institutional launches for Ariane 6 to sign a manufacturing contract. Launch contracts are needed for the transitional period of 2020–2023 when Ariane 5 will be phased out and gradually replaced by the Ariane 6. The company required European institutions to become an anchor customer for the launcher. In response, ESA representative said the agency was working on shifting the 2022 launch of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer from Ariane 5 to Ariane 6, further indicating that there are other institutional customers in Europe that must put their weight behind the project, such as Eumetsat or European Commission.
As of January 2019, Arianespace had sold three flights of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. One month later, they added a satellite internet constellation launch contract with OneWeb to utilize the maiden launch of Ariane 6 to help populate the large 600-satellite constellation.
Ariane 6 is being developed in a public-private partnership with the majority of the funding coming from various ESA government sources—€2.815 billion—while €400 million is reported to be "industry's share".
The ESA ruling council approved the project moving forward on 3 November 2016, and the next and final step in funds being released is approval by the ESA Industrial Policy Council, expected 8 November. The funds release was approved.
Launch contracts and scheduled flights
The first Ariane 6 launch contract was signed on 25 June 2015: an option for three launches for the OneWeb satellite constellation. Future Galileo satellite launches are booked on Ariane 6 starting in 2020. On 11 September 2018 Arianespace announced a firm order by Eutelsat for five commercial communication satellites over several years, and the French CNES converted one of their three contracted launches for spy satellites from a Soyuz to an Ariane 6.
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As SpaceX and other launch contenders enter the sector—including new rockets in India, China and Russia—Europe is also investing in a midlife upgrade of Ariane 5, the Ariane 5 ME, which aims to boost performance 20% with no corresponding increase in cost. At the same time, Europe is considering funding a smaller, less capable but more affordable successor to the heavy-lift launcher, the Ariane 6, which would send up to 6,500 kg (14,330 lb.) to GTO for around $95 million per launch.
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When it comes to Ariane 64, we are at around $90 to $100 million, as opposed to Ariane 5, which is in terms of cost, around $200 million. You see with the effort we’re making, we want to reduce the cost around 40/50 percent, which is very ambitious.
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In a press-release, Arianespace detailed that the contract foresees 21 Soyuz launches, plus an option for 5 additional Soyuz and three Ariane 6 missions. (...) Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, noted that this was the first order for new European Ariane 6 launcher.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ariane 6.|
- Ariane 6 concept video, Airbus Safran Launchers, November 2016.
- Airbus Defence and Space presents Ariane 6 at Paris Air Show 2015