Ariane 6 completes 26-hour long launch countdown sequence25th Jul 2023
The Ariane 6 has made its next steps toward its inaugural launch, after successfully completing the launcher preparation and countdown sequence on 18th July. According to a European Space Agency (ESA) statement, the rocket completed the full sequence during a 26-hour exercise at the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Ariane 6 is the successor of the recently retired Ariane 5 rocket and will provide more launch capacity for Europe’s growing space needs. The vehicle is being developed in collaboration with ESA, ArianeGroup, and French space agency CNES, with Arianespace set to operate it. The launcher is still behind on its original schedule, but the progress is a good sign that Europe is closer to re-establishing its independent access to space.
Full prep and countdown sequence
According to ESA, the launch simulation included the removal of the mobile gantry, the chill-down of ground and launcher fluid systems, the filling of the upper and core stage tanks with liquid hydrogen (–253°C) and liquid oxygen (–183°C), and the successful completion of a launch chronology. The full launch system performance produced “excellent results”, according to the space agency.
The teams finished the simulation up until the ignition of the Vulcain 2.1 engine thrust chamber. According to ESA, the teams successfully tested several degraded and contingency modes, demonstrating that the rocket worked well and fit with the launch base correctly.
“The tests which were conducted on 18 July mark a critical achievement on the road to the inaugural flight and were an overall success with key objectives completed,” said Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA.
“I want to thank and congratulate the teams from ESA, ArianeGroup and CNES for their outstanding work and tremendous cooperation”.
Still behind schedule
While the progress is a good sign, the Ariane 6 program remains behind schedule.
In October 2022, 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, those milestones are only just beginning to take place. Further, this latest update explained that the teams had to postpone the short ignition of the Vulcain 2.1 engine to the next session “as time ran out”, and that a long-duration hot fire test would occur later this summer.
A hot fire test of the Ariane 6’s upper stage – powered by the new Vinci engine – was supposed to take place at the Germany Aerospace Center’s (DLR) P5.2 test bench during July as well, but ESA has not confirmed its completion yet.
Regardless, ESA said the project team is “confident about the progress of the test campaign”, and the agency said on Twitter the next full update of the Ariane 6 would be released in August.
Progress so far
Regardless of the ongoing delays, the Ariane 6 is moving at a steady pace and has completed several important steps before its inaugural launch.
In May, ESA announced the first batch of documentation had been delivered for the overall qualification review. Further, two wet dress rehearsals and a long hot firing test of the lower stage were completed on the launch pad in May.
In Early June, the configuration of the launcher’s avionic platform, called the Iron Bird, had been changed and was ready for the qualification tests in its flight configuration. The platform is used to qualify the Ariane 6’s avionic system and flight software.