Ariane 6 launcher sees successful hot-fire test for upper stage

September 4, 2023

September 4, 2023

The Ariane 6 launcher saw its second hot-fire test (Courtesy ArianeGroup)
The Ariane 6 launcher saw its second hot-fire test (Courtesy ArianeGroup)

Teams from ArianeGroup, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France; the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR), and the European Space Agency (ESA) have successfully completed a further hot-fire test of the upper stage of the new Ariane 6 launcher. Metal Additive Manufacturing has been used in the production of the thrust chambers for the rocket’s Vinci engine, used in the upper stage.

The test took place in Lampoldshausen, Germany, where the upper stage test sequence simulated the operating phase of Ariane 6’s inaugural flight. It required eleven minutes (680 seconds) of Vinci re-ignitable motor operation in two boosts, including two boosts of the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) in parallel with the Vinci engine, as well as propellant pressure and temperature control in the tanks during non-propulsive phase. The Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) was in operation for a cumulative period of almost thirty minutes.

The complete test results are currently being analysed and should lead to the Ariane 6 upper stage being declared ‘flight-ready.’

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“This success for the Ariane 6 teams brings us closer to the final qualification of the upper stage. This crucial test has demonstrated the perfect simultaneous operation of the Vinci re-ignitable engine and the APU, which are two key technologies for the versatility of our new European launcher, allowing it to complete highly diverse missions,” explained Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup. “I would like to commend the excellent cooperation between our French-German teams and our partners from DLR, who – with the team of our client ESA –, have once again demonstrated their determination to move Ariane 6 towards its inaugural flight, while securing the quality and dependability of Europe’s new launcher.”

Walther Pelzer, Member of the DLR Executive Board and Director General of the German Space Agency at DLR, explained, “I am very happy about the successful test and I congratulate the teams from ArianeGroup, ESA and DLR on this successful cooperation. This test is a key milestone and an essential step in the qualification of the upper stage for its first flight. DLR is renowned worldwide for its unique test infrastructure and is setting new standards in Europe with the P5.2 test stand. During the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level held in Paris in November 2022, the Member States agreed that Lampoldshausen is part of the strategic ESA infrastructure as a site for engine and stage tests.”

Both Additive Manufacturing and Powder Metallurgy are used to manufacture components in the Vinci engine (Courtesy DLR)
Both Additive Manufacturing and Powder Metallurgy are used to manufacture components in the Vinci engine (Courtesy DLR)

ESA Director of Space Transportation Toni Tolker-Nielsen added, “Ariane 6 represents a dramatic increase in our launch capability, and the upper stage with its re-ignitiable Vinci engine will be transformative. The results from these tests gives us great confidence in the flexibility of this launch system to satisfy all mission requirements. Together with our partners we are making significant progress, and I look forward to the next stages of our Ariane 6 journey.”

Assembled at ArianeGroup’s site in Bremen, Germany, the Ariane 6 upper stage incorporates some of the launcher’s main innovations. These enable it to carry out a wide range of launch missions, including complex ones such as the large-scale deployment of satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit (LEO), or the successive injection of payloads into different orbital planes.

The stage includes two main tanks for cryogenic propellants (liquid hydrogen and oxygen) to power the Vinci engine, which can be re-ignited up to four times. Additionally, it features the Auxiliary Power Unit.

While upper stage tests are taking place in Germany, combined tests of the entire launch system, including the first-ever built Ariane 6 launcher called CTM (Combined Test Model), and the new launch base continue in Kourou. The test launcher includes an upper stage used for launcher electrical and fluids tests, such as cryogenic propellant filling and draining sequences, and the operation of the cryo-arms in fully representative conditions, along with the launch base.

The Ariane 6 programme is managed and funded by ESA. ArianeGroup, as the industrial lead contractor and design authority for the launcher, is responsible for its development, production, and marketing through its Arianespace subsidiary, with the help of its industrial partners. Meanwhile, CNES and its contractual partners are in charge of constructing the launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana.

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September 4, 2023

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