On September 5, 2023, ArianeGroup, in collaboration with CNES and ESA, completed the first short hot fire test of Ariane 6 core stage. The test was carried out on its reserved launch pad at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. Two previous attempts, during the test campaign in July and on Aug. 29, were interrupted for technical issues.
The engine ignition was preceded by a complete launch sequence, including removal of the mobile gantry, filling of the upper and core stages, and final countdown. The Vulcan 2.1 engine successfully ignited and steadily fired for 4 seconds.
“This major test with an Ariane 6 test model on the launch pad is another key milestone on the road to the inaugural flight. This success shows the hard work and excellent cooperation by the teams preparing Ariane 6 for its first launch.”— Toni Tolker-Nielsen, Director of Space Transportation at ESA
Final steps toward maiden launch
This hot fire test marks a key milestone in the Ariane 6 path toward the first launch, now scheduled for the first half of 2024. The test campaign is being conducted in part at the Guiana Space Center, concerning the core stage, and partly at the DLR test facility in Lampoldshausen, for the upper stage.
Previously a full-duration hot fire test of the upper stage was completed in Germany, on Sept. 1. The Vinci engine was ignited two times for a total of 680 seconds, in parallel also the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) was successfully tested with an operational period of 30 minutes. Differently from its predecessor, the Ariane 6’s upper stage will be capable of carrying satellite constellations and deploying multiple payloads in different orbital planes, with an increased efficiency.
Ariane 6’s ESR (Equipped Solid Rockets), built by Avio, have already been qualified by hot fire tests and their P120C engine has already been successfully used in two Vega-C launches.
Now, the next key step is a full-duration hot fire test of the core stage with a 470-second ignition of the Vulcan 2.1. Originally planned for late September, it will likely be conducted in October. After that, a third upper stage test will be held in Lampoldshausen.
Ariane 6 is the future European’s medium-heavy launch vehicle, developed by ArianeGroup to replace the recently retired Ariane 5 rocket. Firstly scheduled to liftoff in 2020, a series of delays postponed the arrival of the new vehicle, leaving Europe without its main asset during a period of space crisis for the continent.
Ariane 6 is a two-stage rocket, both propelled by liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen. Depending on the version the vehicle features two (A62) or four (A64) P120s solid boosters. The first stage is powered by a Vulcan 2.1 engine, derived from Ariane 5’s Vulcan. Ariane 64 is capable of carrying up to 11,500 kg into GTO and 21,600 kg into LEO.