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  • Ariane 6: Brand new and already Outdated


Ariane 6: Brand new and already Outdated


After a year without its launches, the European Space Agency Esa wants to return to space today, July 9, 2024. The new Ariane 6 rocket is to undertake its first test flight. According to ESA, 30 further flights have already been ordered.

It is only a test flight, it is to last three hours, but for the European Space Agency it is a matter of everything: Are we Europeans able to fly into space with our rocket again? Can we overcome the so-called launcher crisis? The mission is clear: “Independent European access to space is essential for our daily lives as well as for business and science,” says Anna Christmann. The Green Party member of the Bundestag is the federal government’s coordinator for German aerospace.

The experts from the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) also never tyre of emphasizing the importance of the flight and Germany’s important contribution to the rocket. “German research and industry play a major role in the overall package of the new European Ariane 6 launch vehicle,” says Walther Pelzer, DLR board member and Director General of the German Space Agency. “The strengths of the German sites lie in liquid propulsion, upper stage technology, and tanks and structures.”

If, however, you ask space experts whether the European rocket, which has been in development since 2014 and is due to launch for the first time in 2020, is up to date, the answer is: you can forget about it. Martin Tajmar, Professor of Space Systems at the TU Dresden, doesn’t mince his words when speaking to the DPA, pointing out how old the technology looks compared to the private competition.

“In 2015, the Falcon 9 rocket landed successfully for the first time and essentially started the era of reusable space travel, which of course means that all the others now look completely out of date.” And SpaceX is ahead commercially. According to expert estimates, a Falcon 9 launch costs around 30 million euros. For the new Ariane 6, it is at least 90 million.
ESA must get back into the game.

The most important thing about the Ariane 6 is that it restores access to space, which is one of the original missions of European space travel, says Tajmar. It is also about offering an alternative, even if it is not the cheapest. “It is a really difficult environment to be in.” But at least, says Tajmar, we can now get back into the game. The prerequisite for this is, of course, that the test is successful and that the Ariane 6 can be used as planned.

How we get into the game is something else again, but we can get into the game and we are a partner.
Prof. Martin Tajmar, TU Dresden

Despite the great competition, 30 flights have already been ordered, according to the DLR. In addition to ESA missions such as the PLATO space telescope, which will launch in 2026 to search for Earth-like extrasolar planets in the Milky Way, there are also launches for private customers such as Amazon. For the company, the Ariane 6 is to bring communications satellites from its Kuiper constellation into orbit. Half of the launches planned so far are intended for this purpose alone.

The first payload of the Ariane 6 is 17 experiments. Two of these alone are intended to survive re-entry into the atmosphere. One of them is the Nyx Bikini test space capsule from The Exploration Company based in Planegg near Munich. There are also the Curium One satellites from Planetary Transportation Systems from Kleinmachnow and the OOV-Cube from Rapid Cubes from Berlin.

The latter is a 25 by 25-centimeter cube-shaped satellite developed by the Technical University of Berlin and the Berlin-based company RapidCubes. The OOV is designed to operate in an orbit at an altitude of 580 kilometres. There it will test, for example, a technology that can be connected to miniaturized transmitters on Earth that animals carry and that connect them to scientists in real-time. This would be particularly useful in remote areas without terrestrial infrastructure. The satellite should also be able to process images in space using AI. Hence the name: On Orbit Verification Cube.

The first flight was the ultimate test flight

A successful first flight of the new Ariane, which will launch from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, is now important. The rocket manufacturer ArianeGroup says that in a certain sense, the first flight is the ultimate test flight. But ESA’s space transport director, Toni Tolker-Nielsen, is convinced:

“Everything has been done to make it a success. If it fails, that would be bad.” For more than a year, after the last launch of Ariane 5 on July 6, 2023, ESA has been able to cannot launch a satellite into space. After the failed commercial launch of the Vega C at the end of 2022, the rocket designed for smaller satellites also remained on the ground. The Soyuz rocket was also no longer available as a result of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. The European Space Agency Esa relied partly on Elon Musk’s US company SpaceX.

The Ariane 62, which is to take off for the test, is 56 meters high and weighs 540 tons.
The 2 stands for the two boosters. The larger variant Ariane 64 with four boosters is over 60 meters tall and weighs around 900 tons at launch. For comparison: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is 70 meters high and weighs 550 tons. The payloads: The Falcon 9 can carry 8.3 tons into a low orbit, the smaller Ariane 62 10.3 tons according to ESA, and its big sister up to 21.6 tons.

A good dozen countries were involved in the construction of the Ariane 6. The upper stage of the rocket was assembled at the Bremen plant of the ArianeGroup aerospace company. The main stage is being built in the French town of Les Mureaux. Other German production sites are Augsburg and Ottobrunn in Bavaria.

The tanks of the upper stage, tank parts of the main stage and the outer panels of the Ariane 6 were manufactured in Augsburg, and the engines and thrust chambers in Ottobrunn. This is also one of the advantages of the new rocket because the engines of the orbital stage can ignite several times in space and thus bring the payload to the prescribed positions better and more precisely.

“Many important parts of the Ariane 6 launch site in Kourou were also manufactured by German companies. The Ariane 6 is therefore proof that German technology and know-how are indispensable in the launcher sector,” says DLR board member Pelzer. This also includes the 650-ton launch table from which the Ariane 6 will take off if everything goes well.


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EUROPE IS FLYING INTO SPACE AGAIN Ariane 6: Brand new and already Outdated


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