Until the inaugural flight of the future European heavy launcher, press releases will be issued at the end of each progress meeting attended by the program's main stakeholders.
The first " Point de situation relatif à Ariane 6 " was published on May 12, following a progress meeting of the " Launcher Task Force "(Launcher Task Force), which brings together representatives of the European Space Agency (prime contractor for the Ariane 6 program), Cnes (prime contractor for the launch base at the Guiana Space Center), ArianeGroup (prime contractor for the launcher system) and Arianespace (launch operator). It lists the next major milestones to be reached between now and the inaugural flight, currently scheduled for the end of 2023, and summarizes the major operations that have been carried out or are underway over the past six months. Let's rewind the thread since last December.
Operations completed or underway
Combined tests (designed to verify compatibility between launcher and launch pad) began in January 2022 on ELA4 (Ensemble de Lancement Ariane n°4) at the Guiana Space Center, with mechanical integration in the BAL (Bâtiment d'Assemblage Lanceur) of the central body of a functional CTM (Combined Test Model), in Ariane 64 configuration (with four boosters). Then, on July 11, 2022, the mock-up was erected vertically in ZL4 (Zone de Lancement n°4).
Between December and April, the first part of the ELA4 technical qualification review - excluding the control bench - took place, revealing no particular hard points, according to the press release. Qualification of the control bench will be completed next month. The electrical interfaces have been connected, and the corresponding functional tests have been carried out using the test stand on the launch pad. Fluid connections (conventional and cryogenic) to the stages were completed on May 22, in preparation for the first tank filling and short firing sequence of the first-stage Vulcain engine at the end of June. In addition, the two P120C engines for the first flight model were loaded with solid propellant in French Guiana, as the FM1 (Flight Model 1) flight is scheduled to take place in Ariane 62 configuration (with two boosters). Integration of the remaining launcher modules and stages is continuing at the ArianeGroup plants in Les Mureaux and Bremen.
At the German Aerospace Center (DLR) site in Lampoldshausen, Baden-Württemberg, a new bench firing was carried out on January 20 with the European launcher's re-ignitable UPLM (Upper Liquid Propulsion Module) cryogenic upper stage, fitted with the Vinci engine. Then its APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) thruster was ignited twice as planned, displaying " very good behavior ".
Next major milestones
The next two months are marked by several milestones in French Guiana : the start of flight software qualification tests (in nominal and degraded conditions), two countdown dress rehearsals with WDR (Wet Dress Rehearsal) propellants, a long duration fire test of the main stage on the launch pad, and the completion of qualification reviews of various products and subsystems. This is to be followed at the end of June by the start of the Unified Qualification Review of the launcher, launch pad and launch system as a whole.
In early July, an additional test of the upper stage is scheduled at Lampoldshausen. It will simulate a nominal flight profile similar to that planned for the maiden flight, in order to confirm the expected behavior of the upper stage. Subsequently, a complementary test will examine the stage's behavior in degraded conditions.
In November, assembly of the launcher is scheduled in French Guiana (after the main stage and upper stage have been shipped from France and Germany), and the launch campaign for the maiden flight, which will include a final dress rehearsal in full flight configuration.
Such status updates are to be published after each Launcher Task Force meeting. The next one is announced shortly after June 8.
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