The pandemic shifts the ignition of Ariane 6 to 2022

Posted on Oct 25, 2020 at 11:20 am

Another setback in sight for the launch of the European Ariane 6 rocket, a program decided in December 2014 to stay in the race against SpaceX. Initially announced for 2020, ArianeGroup was betting again this summer on a first launch in the fall of 2021. But the project for a new European launcher, which depends both on the development of the launcher by the subsidiary of Airbus and Safran and on the completion of the new launch pad on the Kourou space base led by CNES suffers particularly severely from the consequences. of the health crisis linked to Covid-19, so that a shot before 2022 becomes improbable.

The European Space Agency must assess on Wednesday October 28 the delays and additional costs related to the pandemic on its space programs and in particular on the new Ariane 6 rocket. It should then confirm this postponement of 6 to 12 months compared to the last hoped-for time slot of 2021 .

For this international program, the impact of the pandemic is very complicated to manage. Unlike Elon Musk, the sole principal in the California SpaceX plant where everything is integrated, European space programs go through the cooperation of multiple players. Ariane 6 is a program which brings together more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, including 350 Small and Medium Enterprises. However, as teleworking works well in the study phase, it becomes more complicated to manage when it comes to the final phases of assembly, validation and reception.

Difficulties in Guyana

In addition, in Kourou in Guyana, the management of the epidemic imposes particularly severe constraints with confinement, a curfew and quarantines that are much more demanding than in metropolitan France. As a result, the launching site for the new launcher was behind schedule and the organization of tests at Kourou became very difficult.

The Aerospatium magazine, which alerted the first to this postponement to 2022, underlines that the Cnes is encountering technical problems with the fluid systems of the complex and especially with the cryogenic refueling arms of the upper stage of the launcher. “Much more sophisticated than the Ariane 5 arms, these arms must be disconnected after the main engine has been switched on and no longer before as on the Ariane 5, and the qualification of this clearance has turned out to be a real problem. head for the teams of Cnes and its industrial subcontractors: ADF Group, Cegelec and Air Liquide ”, underlines the review.

Engines successfully tested

On the other hand, for ArianeGroup, the time has come for satisfaction, as the manufacturer has, in these difficult conditions, successfully completed all of the rocket’s engines. Ariane 6 provides three types of engines, with liquid hydrogen-oxygen propulsion for the Vulcain 2.1 engine on the main stage and the re-ignitable Vinci engine on the upper stage and solid propulsion, with the P120C engine fitted to the boosters. Finally in Bremen, the ArianeGroup teams finished assembling the very first upper stage of the Ariane 6 rocket.

The difficulty for the European Space Agency will be to assess the so-called “transition” period, i.e. the moment between the end of Ariane 5’s life (8 launchers remain to be fired, one of which is reserved for the launch of the James Webb Telescope) and the rise of Ariane 6. A costly transition which, if Ariane 6 is too late, threatens Europe to be deprived of heavy launching resources for some time.

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