European Space Agency Reveals New Rocket Design

ESA announced the basic design plan on 9 July for the Ariane 6, successor to ESA’s heavy-duty launch vehicle Ariane 5. The new spacecraft will be able to launch a single telecommunication satellite weighing between 3 and 6.5 metric tons. This is less mass than the Ariane 5 model, although the Ariane 6 will still be able to launch satellites of the same volume thanks to a 5.4 diameter payload fairing.

“The objective of Ariane 6 is to maintain guaranteed autonomous access to space for Europe, while minimizing ... costs,” ESA said of the project in a statement. According to ESA, many of its member states are worried about the price of the new spacecraft after the expensive Ariane 5 project. The goal is to produce and launch the Ariane 6 for less than $90 million. Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), told Agency-France Press that at that price, the launch cost of the Ariane 6 will be thirty percent cheaper than the Ariane 5. Ariane 6’s lighter payload limits are a result of this smaller price tag.

Ariane 6 will have a “PPH” general configuration, referring to the order of the stages. The first two stages will use solid propulsion and the third will use cryogenically cooled hydrogen and oxygen.

The ESA chose a ‘Multi P’ concept.’ This means the Ariane 6 will have four solid-rocket motors with around 135 tons of propellant each, the first three being positioned on the first stage and the fourth on the second stage. The third stage, propelled by a hydrogen burning Vinci engine, will be modeled after the upper stage on the Ariane 5ME (the mid-evolution model of the Ariane 5. The first two stages are intended to separate during the launch, leaving the third stage to bring the craft into orbit. When the mission is complete the Vinci will remove the rocket from orbit. (A video animation shows the complete launch cycle.)

European ministers in Naples approved the project in November 2012. ESA estimates Ariane 6 will be in operation at the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana in the early 2020s. 

Illustration: ESA

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