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Ariane 6 is go, this is how AM helped to make it happen

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The Ariane 6 rocket, Europe’s new generation launcher has taken off successfully from the ESA’s base in French Guyana. This is a big moment for Europe, as the rocket will ensure our guaranteed, autonomous access to space – and all of the science, Earth observation, technology development and commercial possibilities that it entails. With many features brand new to Ariane 6, we’ll be able to carry more and take it further, while sustainably disposing of the launcher’s upper stage to prevent it becoming space debris. During the long development of the Ariane 6 many AM companies collaborated bringing expertise and AM capabilities. Oerlikon provided multiple parts, as did GKN, working with Airbus and  EOS.

Ariane 6 x 3

The first flight of Ariane 6 will have three phases, each of which will demonstrate various abilities for Europe’s newest heavy-lift rocket.

The first phase of Ariane 6’s flight, events one to five in the infographic above, will launch the rocket off Earth and into space. The thrust will come from the main stage engine, Vulcain 2.1, together with the force from two powerful P120C boosters. Phase 1 will also include the separation of the main stage from the upper stage, and the first boost of the upper stage’s Vinci engine which inserts it, and its passengers, into an elliptical orbit 300 by 700 km above Earth.

The Vinci engine will fire until about 18 minutes after liftoff, after which point Ariane 6 will have demonstrated that it can match a typical flight profile of its predecessor, the Ariane 5 ECA version.

The next phase (events six to nine above) is when Ariane 6’s newest feature is put to the test: reignition of the upper stage. In Phase 2, the Vinci engine will re-fire for the first time, changing Ariane 6’s orbit from elliptical to a circular orbit 580 km from Earth’s surface.

Re-igniting an engine in zero gravity may not sound so difficult, but as fuels float freely inside the tanks, it is not as simple as you might think. The Auxiliary Propulsion Unit (APU) helps here, providing a small but steady amount of thrust to cause fuel in the Vinci tanks to settle ensuring it can fire again. The first re-ignition will be followed by the deployment of Ariane 6’s first three satellites; OOV-Cube, Curium One and Robusta-3A, and the activation of two of its onboard experiments, YPSat and Peregrinus.

Retrait portique en ZL4, le 20/06/2024. | Mobile gantry removal at ZL4. 06/20/2024.

A few seconds later, the second batch of satellites will deploy; 3Cat-4, ISTSat and GRBBeta, and the last two experiments will be turned on, SIDLOC and Parisat. A third separation command will then deploy CURIE and replicator. At this point, Ariane 6 has done its job, reigniting its upper stage and deploying its eight satellite missions and activating all onboard experiments.

The final phase in Ariane 6’s inaugural flight (events nine to 12 above) will push the cryogenic upper stage even further to its limit, and validate its ability to really perform under microgravity conditions. The final boost for the upper stage will require it to re-ignite after its longest period “off” in space, initiating its controlled deorbit back through Earth’s atmosphere over the ‘NEMO point’ in the South Pacific. Moments later, the two reentry capsules onboard will separate from the upper stage to make their descent to Earth with the aim to survive their fiery re-entry through our atmosphere.

A final command will be sent to passivate the upper stage – removing any energy on board to prevent possible explosions, another vital step for a sustainable descent – before it burns up in the atmosphere. Ariane 6 was designed to have this ability – to prevent the upper stage from lingering in space as debris.

Next: tech demos, controlled deorbit and capsule separation

With the placement of satellites into orbit, Ariane 6 has demonstrated that it can successfully launch its payloads into space, but ground control has more in store for its inaugural flight. Over the next hour, Ariane 6’s upper stage will show again that it can restart its Vinci engine using the novel auxiliary propulsion unit. This restart capability will allow Ariane 6 to drop off multiple passengers into different orbits on future flights and deorbit itself through Earth’s atmosphere at the end of its mission, to ensure it does not become space debris.

On this flight the Ariane 6 upper stage is set to release two reentry capsules as it enters Earth’s atmosphere for a clean disposal to burn up harmlessly, leaving no space debris in orbit.

The next Ariane 6 is planned for launch this year on its first commercial flight under Arianespace as operator and launch service provider. “The success of this first flight marks the start of Ariane 6’s operational career, giving Europe autonomous access to space,” added Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “The new launcher’s order book is proof of the versatility of Ariane 6 and of its capacity to accomplish a wide range of missions into multiple orbits. It reflects the confidence that customers have in Ariane 6 for both their institutional and commercial missions. We are eager to begin operating our new launcher.”

Read the full story about the collaboration between AMCM and ArianeGroup in VoxelMatters’ newest AM Focus Aerospace eBook.

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