The brand new ESA’s Ariane 6 launcher has successfully completed a full-duration hot fire test of the core stage. The test was conducted on November 23, 2023, at the European Spaceport located in Kourou, French Guiana, precisely at the ELA4 launch facility which is equipped with a Deluge Fire Suppression System in order to temper the heat coming from the engine.
Hot Fire Test in detail
The test was supposed to last 470 seconds (approximately 8 minutes), which is exactly the operational time of the core stage functioning in the real flight phase. The aim was to verify the correct performance, without anomalies, of the Vulcain 2.1 engine. Even if it ended 44 seconds earlier, ESA confirmed the success of the test.
ESA’s new #Ariane6 rocket passed a major full-scale rehearsal today in preparation for its first flight, when teams on the ground went through a complete launch countdown followed by a seven-minute full firing of the core stage’s engine, as it would fire on a launch into space.… pic.twitter.com/K9wyR7GA4F— ESA (@esa) November 23, 2023
Being a static fire test mainly of the liquid propulsion system (and the thrust vector control of the nozzle), the solid boosters were not turned on and indeed the Ariane 6 remained firmly on the launch pad. The explanation lies in the way the thrust is distributed.
This type of mixed staging launcher gets around 85-90% of thrust coming from the boosters and only 5-10% from the central stage, the reason why the launcher’s lift-off cannot occur with a small push.
“The teams from ArianeGroup, CNES, and ESA have now run through every step of the rocket’s flight without it leaving Earth. This milestone rehearsal comes after years of designing, planning, building, and hard work from some of the finest space engineers in Europe. We are back on track towards securing Europe’s autonomous access to space”— Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director General
The last hot static fire test has been scheduled for December 2023, where the upper stage of the rocket will be tested at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Ariane 6 launcher
Ariane 6 is the launcher of the future that will guarantee Europe fast and reliable access to space. Developed by Ariane Group under ESA authority, it weighs approximately 900 tons and is 60 meters high. It will be available in two versions:
- Ariane 62, with two main strap-on boosters. It has the capability to deploy payloads weighing around 4500 kg into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) or 10.300 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO);
- Ariane 64, with four strap-on boosters. It can launch payloads of 11.500 kg into GTO and 20.600 kg into LEO.
Derived from the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine, the new Vulcain 2.1 will power the Ariane 6 main stage for the first eight minutes of the flight. It is set to consume nearly 150 tons of propellant coming from the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks (the latter is kept at low temperatures, below -250°C). This cryogenic engine is being developed by ArianeGroup in cooperation with its European partners and provides a thrust of 135 metric tons in a vacuum.