Thursday, July 18, 2024

Ariane 6 rocket launch: What is it and when is it happening? -Dlight News

Artist’s depiction of the Ariane 6 rocket

ESA-D. Ducros

What is Ariane 6?

Ariane 6 is the latest model in the Ariane line of rockets – Europe’s own satellite launchers. The project dates back to a proposal from 1973 and the first flight of the Ariane 1 rocket took place just six years later in 1979.

The last version to fly was Ariane 5, which had 112 successful missions out of 117 attempted launches, including the James Webb Space Telescope and the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. But it was retired last year to make way for Ariane 6, which has lower expected launch costs.

The loss of Ariane 5 and the European Space Agency (ESA) severing its links with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine meant that Europe briefly had no direct way to launch satellites and was forced to turn to the commercial sector.

The ultimate idea is for the rocket to not only pick up all of these government launches in future, but also to offer its own commercial launch service – it already has orders from Amazon to launch Kuiper internet satellites.

How big is Ariane 6?

Ariane 6 stands 63 metres tall, with a diameter of 5.4 metres, and can launch up to 21,650 kilograms to low Earth orbit. This falls short of the payload capacity of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), China’s Long March 10 and SpaceX’s Starship, but it will be capable of putting a range of spy, weather and global positioning satellites into orbit.

The main advantage of Ariane 6 isn’t its payload, but its lower costs and simpler production. It has been designed by aerospace company ArianeGroup to be easier and faster to build and launch than its predecessor, giving ESA the ability to launch once a month if needed.

The rocket was originally supposed to fly in 2020, but was pushed several times. Those delays, coupled with the falling cost of using reusable rockets such as those operated by SpaceX, have meant that Europe has looked elsewhere for launch capability. The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites recently awarded a launch contract to SpaceX rather than opting for Ariane 6. And last year, a European contract to put Galileo navigation satellites into orbit also went to SpaceX.

When is the Ariane 6 launch and how can I watch?

The launch from ESA’s site in French Guiana is scheduled for 9 July with a window from 7pm to 11pm BST. ESA will live stream the launch, starting half an hour before lift-off, and you can watch the stream at newscientist.com.

What will happen during the launch?

Ariane 6 will take off powered by its main engine, a Vulcain 2.1, and two disposable boosters. These boosters will fall away, as will the first stage, and then the upper stage’s Vinci engine will push it into an elliptical orbit 300 by 700 kilometres above Earth. Later, the Vinci engine will refire to place the upper stage into a circular orbit, Ariane will release eight satellites and then the upper stage will burn up in the atmosphere. Two small re-entry capsules will make it safely back to Earth.

What comes after Ariane 6?

A successor to Ariane 6 is already being developed, and it will break with the sequential numbering convention of the previous rockets. Ariane Next, as it is known, will be a reusable rocket akin to SpaceX’s Starship. It is slated to launch sometime in the 2030s.

The main criticism of Ariane 6 has been that it isn’t reusable, an approach SpaceX has pioneered and several other companies are already developing. This is something that won’t be fixed in Europe until Next enters service.

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