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European Space Agency Reveals New Rocket Design

Ariane 6 will be less powerful, but more economic than Ariane-5

2 min read
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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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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