Teams from ArianeGroup, the French Space Agency (CNES), and the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully completed the long-duration hot-fire test of the Ariane 6 core stage on its launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport, French Guiana.
The Ariane 6 is Europe’s next-generation heavy-lifter being developed by ArianeGroup and its partners to replace the Ariane 5, which was retired in July 2023 after 27 years of service and more than 100 successful launches.
The Ariane 6 aims to offer better performance, lower cost, and greater simplicity than its predecessor. It will be able to launch payloads ranging from 4,500 kg (9,900 lb) to 21,650 kg (47,730 lb), depending on the orbit and the configuration.
The rocket comprises a core stage powered by a single Vulcain 2.1 engine and an upper stage with a smaller Vinci engine. Additionally, the vehicle has either two or four solid rocket boosters that provide extra thrust during takeoff. The first flight of the rocket is expected to take place in early 2024. The Ariane 6 will compete with other heavy-lift rockets in the growing global market for space launch services.
The latest hot-fire test of Ariane 6’s core stage is a crucial step in the combined tests campaign. It builds upon the initial integration of the Ariane 6 launcher on its launch pad, as well as the electrical and fluids functional qualification tests and the first launch sequence tests. These tests were carried out successfully on various dates, such as July 18, 2023, September 5, 2023, and October 23, respectively.
The November 23 test sequence followed the same procedure as the previous ones, with a launch sequence and final countdown representative of an actual launch. This included the removal of the mobile gantry, filling the launcher’s upper and core stage tanks with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and the ignition of the core stage Vulcain 2.1 engine, which then burned for a full seven minutes, generating a maximum of 310,000 lb of thrust. During the trial, the Vulcain 2.1 burned through nearly 165 tons (150 metric tons) of propellant.
All functional aspects of Ariane 6’s core stage were thoroughly tested during the flight phase. The successful hot-fire test is a significant step towards qualifying the launch sequence operations and the Ariane 6 launcher, especially the core stage.
Earlier, the Ariane 6 upper stage was hot-fire tested on its inaugural flight mission profile by ArianeGroup, the German Space Agency DLR, and ESA on the test bench in Lampoldshausen (Germany).
“Ariane 6 now has a core stage and an upper stage, which have undergone all testing necessary to be ready for the inaugural flight. Successfully completing such complex stage tests is a real industrial feat, and I would like to congratulate the teams from ArianeGroup and all our partners, particularly ESA, CNES, and DLR, on the high quality of their work. On this final stretch towards the first flight, we still have to carry out a few additional tests to demonstrate fault tolerance, deliver the first launcher to Kourou, and perform the launch system qualification review,” said Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, in a statement.
This new step contributes to the final qualification of the entire launch system, consisting of the launcher and the launch site.