Europe's Ariane 6 rocket rated 'ready to rumble' after passing hot fire test
Still not reusable, but at least it's getting closer to long-delayed launch
The Ariane 6 launcher has successfully conducted a hot fire test –, an important achievement for the Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA).
"ESA's new Ariane 6 rocket passed a major full-scale rehearsal today [November 23] in preparation for its first flight, when teams on the ground went through a complete launch countdown followed by a seven-minute full firing of the core stage's engine, as it would fire on a launch into space," states an ESA announcement posted in the wee small hours on Friday the 24 and thrillingly titled "Hot fire: Ariane 6 ready to rumble."
The test, the longest "full stack" run for Ariane 6's lower liquid propulsion module with a Vulcain 2.1 engine, was conducted on the launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.
"The teams from ArianeGroup, CNES and ESA have now run through every step of the rocket's flight without it leaving Earth," explained ESA director general Josef Aschbacher, who declared success means "We are back on track towards resecuring Europe's autonomous access to space."
That outcome is not yet certain, as the ESA has planned another hot-fire test of the rocket's upper stage for December 2023.
- European Space Agency grits teeth, preps contracts for SpaceX Galileo launch
- ESA goes back to the future with a space freighter... yes again
- Europe eyes skies with aim to track space junk and boost orbital operations
- Brits sign Axiom Space deal for human spaceflight in name of science
But the success of this test is good news. The ESA flew the last Ariane 5 in July 2023, leaving it with only the Vega launcher family and its modest payload capacity of 2,300kg. Ariane 5 could carry 20,000kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) – capacity that made it competitive with SpaceX's Falcon 9. The 64 variant of Ariane 6 is specced to haul 21.6 tonnes to LEO, 12T into geostationary orbit, 8.5T into a lunar transfer orbit, or 7.6T for an "Earth escape mission."
Elon Musk's space concern is one reason Ariane 6 was developed – the new rocket lowers costs to compete better with SpaceX's re-usable launchers.
Among the tweaks used to cut costs for Ariane 6 is the Vulcain 2.1 – a modification of the Vulcain 2 engine used on the Ariane 5. Vulcain 2.1 boasts what the ESA describes as "a simplified and cheaper design, and new technology in the engine nozzle and ignition system has been moved from the engine to the launchpad structure, to make the stage perform better and cost less."
But the Euro-rocket was slow to launch, blowing its development budget and slipping well behind its projected 2020 target for a maiden flight.
It's now hoped Ariane 6 will fly in 2024.
Which will be a relief for Arianespace, given it's in the launch business. And also good news for ESA member nations, as they realize that sovereign launch capability is necessary for national security. Astroboffins will also be smiling at the prospect of future ESA science missions riding the rocket, instead of having to fly with SpaceX. ®