• Laurence Russell

Ariane 6: Start of upper-stage hot-firing test

On 5th October, teams from ArianeGroup, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) successfully completed the first hot-firing test of the new Ariane 6 upper stage on a dedicated test bench in Lampoldshausen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

The cryogenic upper stage represents one of the most important innovations of Ariane 6 and will enable the widest possible range of complex missions, for example to place entire satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit (LEO) or payloads of 4.5 to 12 tons in geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The stage consists of two main tanks filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power the new Vinci engine, which can be re-ignited up to four times, and the Auxiliary Power Unit, an innovative approach to pressurising tanks for re-ignition and providing additional thrust as needed in orbit.


The hot-firing test of the upper stage was carried out on the DLR site. The stage must now undergo up to three more hot-firing tests to obtain its “flight-ready” qualification. ArianeGroup and ESA engineers in Bremen (Germany), Vernon and Les Mureaux (France) and the DLR teams in Lampoldshausen (Germany) are using the tests to collect data that is essential for the programme to progress, including information on the ballistic phases during which the rocket flies without thrust, on the pressurization of the tanks before the engine ignites, on the re-ignition of the engine and on the operation of the nozzles used for attitude control.


"The completion of this hot-firing test is an important step on the way to the qualification of Ariane 6 and its successful inaugural flight. Ariane 6’s upper stage, which was developed, produced, assembled and tested in Germany, demonstrates the expertise of ArianeGroup, its industrial partners and DLR," said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup. "The upper stage hot-firing tests are being conducted in parallel with the so-called “combined tests “of the launcher and the launch pad - the latter under the direction of the French space agency CNES. These combined tests are currently taking place at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, under the supervision of the European Space Agency (ESA). With such combined forces and thanks to our outstanding teams, we will achieve the technical excellence that will continue the long-standing success story of Ariane 5, the predecessor of Ariane 6. We are working tirelessly to ensure the successful first flight and series production of Ariane 6, meeting the expectations of Arianespace's prestigious European institutional customers as well as its commercial customers around the world."


“With Ariane 6, Europe will have a launcher that can be the cornerstone of its space activities for many years to come. It is the ideal rocket to launch our institutional missions and thus guarantee access to space for all European users – a capability that has become indispensable in today’s geopolitical environment,” emphasised Walther Pelzer, DLR Executive Board Member and Head of the German Space Agency at DLR. “I am therefore particularly pleased that we have reached this essential milestone in the development of Ariane 6. It is a great success for the cooperation between DLR, ESA and the German and European space industry.”


ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander adds: “It’s a fact in the 21st century that Europeans depend on space for safety, prosperity and security. Europe needs to work toward complete autonomy in accessing and operating in space. Ariane 6 is key to this and we are eager to see the liftoff from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana”


The completion of all tests and the anticipation of all types of potential issues will ensure that the maiden flight of Ariane 6, can be successfully carried out.


The upper stage of the new European Ariane 6 launcher is manufactured at the ArianeGroup site in Bremen, Germany. Another upper stage has been delivered from Bremen to Kourou in French Guiana and integrated by ArianeGroup with the first main stage of the launcher, manufactured by ArianeGroup in Les Mureaux near Paris. Both were mated on June 23rd forming the core stage for the Combined Test Model (CTM). It was installed at its new launch site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on July 12th, and tests are now ongoing. The ground segments for Ariane 6 were built by the French space agency CNES (Centre National d'Études Spatiales) and its subcontractors.


The stages of the first Ariane 6 model to fly into space, known as Flight Model 1 (FM1), are currently being integrated and completed at ArianeGroup’s sites in Bremen and Les Mureaux.


Ariane 6 is a programme led and funded by the European Space Agency (ESA). As prime contractor and designer of the launcher, ArianeGroup, together with its industrial partners, is responsible for development and production and, through its subsidiary Arianespace, for marketing. CNES and its contractors are responsible for the construction of the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.