Ariane 6 soon to begin qualification review

13th Jun 2023
Ariane 6 soon to begin qualification review

As the inaugural Ariane 6 flight inches closer, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released its latest update on the rocket’s flight readiness. The update was released on 8th June and provides information on what the launcher has accomplished since the last update in May.

It is unlikely Ariane 6 will take to the skies in 2023 as planned. However, the latest update shows it is on its way to completing a full launch system qualification review. This review will include the qualification tests for its avionics systems.

What happened in May and June

The Ariane 6 is set to replace the long-standing Ariane 5 and deliver more flexibility for European launch needs. Despite its ongoing launch delay, ESA and vehicle developer ArianeGroup hope it will be able to launch twice as much as its predecessor and cost half the price.

In the update, ESA explained that the first batch of documentation had been delivered for the overall qualification review in May, which would allow for the review to occur in June. In early June, the configuration of the avionic platform – called Iron Bird – has been changed and is now ready for the qualification tests in flight configuration. The platform is used to qualify Ariane 6’s avionic system and flight software.

Further, beginning in May, the ground combined tests sequence began at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. This included two wet dress rehearsals and a long firing test of the lower stage – powered by the updated Vulcain 2.1 engine – on the launch pad.

What is next?

Starting in late June, the qualification review will begin with the integration of all launch elements, including the vehicle, the launch system, and the launch base.

In July, the Ariane 6’s upper stage – powered by the new Vinci engine – will complete an additional hot fire test at the Germany Aerospace Center (DLR) on the P5.2 test bench. This will simulate a nominal flight profile to confirm the expected behaviour of the stage, ESA says. It comes months after a hot fire test of the upper stage occurred in January. Another is planned after summer to examine the stage behaviour in “degraded cases”, ESA explained.

In November, the launch vehicle assembly is set to take place, after transporting from France and Germany to the spaceport.

No launch this year, no relaunch this decade

While the vehicle is getting close to its launch, it likely won’t happen this year. In October 2022, ESA’s director general Josef Aschbacher said during a press briefing that the Ariane 6 would only launch in 2023 if three milestones were accomplished by the first quarter of the year, including the hot fire test of the upper stage’s engine, the hot fire test of the lower stage’s engine, and a full qualification review. However, as shown by ESA, the rocket is only completing those milestones now in quarter two.

While the Ariane 6 has been much anticipated, reusable launch requirements have led to questions about the rocket’s success. In April, even the Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said that the rocket might only operate for more than ten years. However, ESA is already exploring reusable launch vehicles and engines, like Prometheus and Themis, which will hopefully be able to complement the Ariane 6 programme.

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