Home Business Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket completes key test after many delays | Technology News

Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket completes key test after many delays | Technology News

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Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket completes key test after many delays | Technology News

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The European-built Ariane 6 rocket completed its important first full-scale rehearsal in preparation for its first test flight, announced the European Space Agency on Thursday. During the test, crews went through a complete launch countdown, followed by full firing of the rocket’s core stage engine for seven minutes.

The Ariane 6 rocket is developed by Arianespace, which is co-owned by Airbus and Safran, on behalf of the European Space Agency.

The engine-firing test reenacted how the Ariane 6 rocket’s core stage will fire during a normal flight into space. The rocket was strapped to the ground for takeoff, but during an actual launch, the main engine would shut down at the end of that time, and the core stage would separate from the upper stage. The upper stage would then take over propulsion for the test of the mission.

The Vulcain 2.1 engine on Ariane 6 burnt through nearly 150 tonnes of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It is an evolution of the Vulcain 2 engine which was used on the Ariane 5 rocket, which, according to the agency, is Europe’s most successful launch system yet. The upgraded engine has a simplified design to make it perform better while being cheaper to operate.

The Vulcain 2.1 engine firing. The Vulcain 2.1 engine firing. (ESA)

While the test was an important milestone, it belies the awkward situation of the European space program—the Ariane 5 system has been retired, and Ariane 6, which is supposed to be its replacement, is not yet ready. Even the smaller Vega C rocket is facing issues and faced a failure during its second-ever launch in March this year.

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Ariane 6 should have had its first launch in 2020, but a series of delays means that the space agency is now targetting a debut launch in 2024. This means that Europe is having a rough transition between its previous generation and future heavy-lift launch vehicles, exacerbated by the fact that they lost access to Russia’s Soyuz launch vehicle due to the country’s ongoing war with Ukraine.

As the space agency mentioned, the previous generation Ariane 5 rocket was quite successful—-it completed over 117 missions. But the problem with it was that it was much more expensive than many of the new rockets in the market, especially SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, according to Ars Technica.

To help the delayed and troubled Ariane program, France, Germany and Italy struck a deal earlier this month to spend 340 million Euros more a year, reported Financial Times. This was also an attempt to ensure that Europe has sovereign access to space in the future.

That could also mean that Ariane 6 launches would be more expensive than initially intended. The real price of Ariane rocket launches have not always been made available to the public but Ars estimates that a launch on the baseline Ariane 5 rocket cost about 150 million euros. The European Space Agency wanted to cut that by half with the Ariane 6 system.

At 75 million euros, the Ariane 6 rocket would have been fairly competitive with Falcon 9, which costs around 63 million euros. But a 50 per cent cost reduction is no longer achievable, and the space agency is now aiming for a 40 per cent cost reduction.

French newspaper Le Figaro reported earlier this month that European Space Agency members are on the “verge of implosion” on the development of rockets. Many member nations have a problem with paying Arianespace to develop rockets because a majority of the industrial work happens in Germany and France.

Also complicating things further is the “geographic return rule” of the European Space Agency. This means that each member state should receive industrial contracts for the space program in proportion to its contribution. Josef Aschbacher, director general of the space agency, wrote in March this year that the geo-return policy has come under increased scrutiny as to whether it is consistent with the competitiveness that the continent’s space industry needs.



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