How the European super-heavy Ariane 6 rocket will fly: video

In June 2023, the Ariane 5 rocket completed its last mission, leaving Europe without a heavy launch vehicle to launch spacecraft into orbit. But ESA will not be left without space transport. The operator, Arianespace, is now actively developing a successor, Ariane 6. Last week, the ESA reported that the first test flight of the launch vehicle was scheduled for June 15, 2024.

While the preparatory work is underway, Arianespace has presented a video illustrating the launch of the rocket, including various phases of flight with the ultimate goal of entering orbit. The company is building two versions of the Ariane 6: the Ariane 62 with two boosters and the more powerful Ariane 64 with four.

The successor to the Ariane 5 has impressive parameters. The height of the rocket will be more than 60 meters, and the mass will be almost 900 tons with a full payload, which is approximately equal to one and a half passenger aircraft Airbus A380.

Ariane 6 launch vehicle. Illustration: ESA

The rocket’s upper stage engine, called Vinci, is powered by liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Its peculiarity is that it can stop and restart several times per flight, which makes it ideal for missions in which several satellites need to be placed in different orbits. This will be especially useful in so-called “joint” missions, which give several companies the opportunity to join a single flight, thereby offering customers a more cost-effective way to deploy small satellites in space. 

After the satellite is deployed, the upper stage of the launch vehicle will descend from orbit and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, ensuring that it does not become dangerous space debris that can  threaten operating satellites in Earth orbit.

Illustration of various modifications of Ariane 6 rockets

The development of Ariane 6 is a large-scale and complex project involving several hundred companies from 13 European countries, led by the general contractor, ArianeGroup. The French space agency CNES is currently working on launchers for Ariane 6 at the Kourou cosmodrome in French Guiana, the very site from where Ariane 5 made its last launch five months ago. 

Ariane 6 has been under development since 2014. The first flight was supposed to take place in 2020, but a number of delays due to various factors postponed this date to 2024.

Earlier, we reported on how Europe was struggling with a shortage of launch vehicles.

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