Ariane 6's central core vertical at launch pad. Credits: ESA

Ariane 6 is Getting Ready for Maiden Launch

The side boosters and the central core of Ariane 6 flight model-1 were joined in Kourou in preparation for the inaugural flight launch campaign

The central core and the two boosters of Ariane 6 flight model-1 are finally at the launch pad, waiting for the payloads. These steps mark the beginning of the inaugural flight launch campaign. On April 12, a final successful hot fire test of the upper stage was carried out in Lampoldshausen, Germany.

Ariane 6's central core vertical at launch pad. Credits: ESA
Ariane 6’s central core vertical at launch pad. Credits: ESA

An integrated ESA-ArianeGroup-CNES team carried out the transfer and installation operations between April 24 and 26 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou.

On April 24 the central core, composed of the core and upper stages, was rolled out from the assembly building and moved to the launch zone, on four automated electric transporters. During a 90-minute process, the rocket was lifted by a crane and placed in a vertical position on the pad.

The two side boosters and the Ariane 6 central core at launch pad. Credits: ESA/ArianeGroup/CNES
The two side boosters and the Ariane 6 central core at launch pad. Credits: ESA/ArianeGroup/CNES

By Friday 26th, the side boosters were transported from the booster store facility to the launch area. In the following days, operations were carried out (completed yesterday), to connect both P120C boosters to the central core.


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Towards launch

Now that these important steps have been completed, the first Ariane 62 rocket is ready to receive its payloads that will arrive in May at Kourou, ready for integration.

In March ESA unveiled a detailed list of the payloads hosted on board the maiden flight. Among them are two reentry capsules:

  • SC-X01 is a demonstrator for ArianeGroup’s future SpaceCase service. The capsule aims to provide customers with the opportunity to validate their technologies in space conditions and while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The 40-kilogram Bikini capsule will be a key demonstrator for the future Nyx vehicle, developed by The Exploration Company. The Bikini launch was previously shifted to an ISRO PSLD rocket, then returned aboard Ariane 6.
Thermal protection of the SpaceCase capsule. Credits: ArianeGroup
Thermal protection of the SpaceCase capsule. Credits: ArianeGroup

Moreover, the launch will carry many experiments and CubeSats like NASA’s twin CURIE. The CUbesat Radio Interferometry Experiment mission will measure radio waves coming from the Sun to study emissions from solar eruptions. The two 3U Cubesats have already been integrated onboard an Exolaunch’s EXOpod deployer. The latter will also deploy ISTSat-1, for the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon, and 3Cat-4 for the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.


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More about Ariane 6

The future European medium-heavy launch vehicle is developed by a series of companies, with ArianeGroup as the lead contractor and design authority. Its subsidiary, Arianespace, is responsible for marketing launch services.

Financed by the European Space Agency, the development of Ariane 6 started in 2014, with the aim of performing the first launch in 2020. A series of program delays postponed the maiden launch until 2024. ESA, CNES, and ArianeGroup are currently targeting the liftoff between June 15 and July 31.

Ariane 6 test vehicle at Europe’s Spaceport. Credits: ESA/ M. Pédoussaut
Ariane 6 test vehicle at Europe’s Spaceport. Credits: ESA/ M. Pédoussaut

The launch vehicle can carry up to 20,600 kg to LEO and 11,500 kg to GEO in its heaviest configuration. Depending on the version the rocket is equipped with two (A62) or four (A64) P120C side boosters. Built by the Italian Avio, they are already used in the first stage of the Vega C small-lift rocket.

Ariane 6’s first stage is powered by a LOX/LH2 Vulcain 2.1 engine, an upgraded version of the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2. Thanks to the reignitable Vinci engine and the Auxiliary Propulsion Unit (APU), the upper stage will ensure important mission flexibility.


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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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