First Ariane 6 rocket ready to assemble as Europe begins final countdown

Core and boosters are on the pad ahead of June launch

The European Space Agency is ready to put together the first Ariane 6 rocket, and has declared the campaign to get it into orbit is under way.

A Friday post from the agency revealed that the central core and boosters of the first Ariane 6 are now on the launchpad at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The core made the journey to the launch pad on April 24 atop the four automated guided vehicles that the ESA uses to move rockets to their last Earthly resting place. The vehicles trundle along at 3km/h, making for a gentle 16-minute journey across the 800 meters between the launcher assembly building and the pad.

The boosters were shipped on 25 and 26 April, aboard a truck specially designed to carry them.

In the next few days the ESA will raise the central core to move the boosters a few centimeters. Once that's done, the core will then be supported by the boosters. Rocket scientists and engineers will then make the necessary mechanical and electrical connections to get Ariane 6 ready to fly.

An Ariane 6 booster being transported to the launch pad. Image credit ESA/ArianeGroup/Arianespace/CNES

An Ariane 6 booster being transported to the launch pad. Image credit ESA/ArianeGroup/Arianespace/CNES – Click to enlarge

At this point, readers may have noticed that we have not mentioned payload! That will be added a few weeks before launch, when the upper part that includes the payloads and the fairing are installed.

The ESA reckons this is a novel and efficient way of getting things done. "One of the innovations in the Ariane 6 launcher assembly process is installing the upper part on the launch pad, aiming to increase efficiency, shorten assembly cycles and shorten the launch campaigns," the Agency's announcement enthuses.

It's also one of the key reasons the ESA developed the Ariane 6 – its designed to increase launch frequency compared to its predecessor the Ariane 5. The new booster can also carry a little more than the model 5 and has engines that can be restarted – a feature that allows it to perform more complex missions.

For now, the ESA just wants the Ariane 6 to fly. The last model 5 has already left the launchpad, meaning Europe lacks a heavy launch capability.

That wasn't in the ESA’s plans when it funded the rocket in 2016 and penciled in a first flight for 2020 – a schedule that would have seen the Ariane 5 and 6 programs overlap.

Ariane 6's orbital debut is now scheduled for between mid-June and mid-July. Even if that launch goes off without a hitch, another big test awaits as the maiden Ariane 6 will use just two boosters – the rocket is also capable of flying with four.

In that configuration Ariane 6 can reach geostationary, geosynchronous, sun-synchronous, or trans-lunar injection orbits. Or it can haul over 21,000kg to low earth orbit – the destination for most payloads. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like