TechEurope's Ariane 6 successfully launches, restoring ESA's autonomy

Europe's Ariane 6 successfully launches, restoring ESA's autonomy

Ariane 6
Ariane 6
Images source: © ESA | David Ducros
Norbert Garbarek

10 July 2024 07:49, updated: 10 July 2024 08:05

As promised, albeit with a slight delay, Europe's largest launch vehicle, Ariane 6, took off. The rocket launched from the spaceport in French Guiana. Within a few minutes after lift-off, the European Space Agency (ESA) could speak of success – everything went according to plan. The rocket safely jettisoned its boosters, and in the second stage, the engine successfully restarted at an altitude of approximately 580 kilometres.

The flight of Ariane 6 is a significant test for the European Space Agency (ESA). The new design is intended to replace the now-retired Ariane 5, which made its final flight in July 2023. Consequently, Europe lost its independence in terms of space launches. Simply put, it had no means to conduct space flights with payloads during this time.

Start of the new ESA rocket

Thus, the first flight of Ariane 6 is a milestone for ESA, offering Europe the chance to regain its autonomy in space launches. Before the flight, Ariane 6 had to be transported to French Guiana.

Subsequently, scientists conducted necessary tests to verify all critical systems enabling the flight. The process went smoothly – ultimately, Ariane 6 could ascend into space.

A reminder: Ariane 6 is a two-stage launch vehicle, with development costs estimated at over 3.6 billion euros. It is powered by rocket engines fuelled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Its construction comprises three main components: the first (primary) stage, boosters, and the second stage.

Ariane 6 comes in two versions. The less powerful one has two boosters, while the more powerful variant has four. On Tuesday, 9th July, the less powerful variant, with two boosters, was launched.

The first stage of Ariane 6 is driven by a single Vulcain 2.1 engine, which uses a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. This entire element measures 5.5 metres in diameter and contains 140 tonnes of fuel.

The second stage has the same diameter as the main stage. It is powered by the same mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen but has a Vinci rocket engine with a thrust of around 18,000 kilograms. The second stage holds approximately 31 tonnes of fuel. The final component of Ariane 6, the boosters, provides the additional thrust needed for lift-off.

Flight plan for Ariane 6

According to the European Space Agency's plan, Ariane 6 should separate its side boosters from the main rocket shortly after launch. The separation of stages in this 63-metre-tall structure is scheduled around the eighth minute after take-off. During Tuesday's flight, these tasks were completed without issues.

Scientists envision that the main stage will be deployed into orbit approximately 700 kilometres above Earth. Then, the stage will manoeuvre to reach a circular orbit 580 kilometres from Earth, where eight satellites will be deployed from the construction. According to the plan, the deorbiting process should occur above the NEMO point in the Pacific.

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