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Europe's space sector to soon welcome Ariane 6: 'The missions will be longer and more versatile'

Euronews Tech Talks goes beyond discussions to explore the impact of new technologies on our lives.
Euronews Tech Talks goes beyond discussions to explore the impact of new technologies on our lives. Copyright Euronews Podcasts
Copyright Euronews Podcasts
By Marta Rodriguez MartinezDavid Walsh
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The new Ariane 6 rocket will close a dark chapter in European space history when the region had no workhorse launcher and no independent access to space.

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What's Ariane 6 like? What's new about it? What space adventures await?

Euronews' Marta Rodríguez Martínez and David Walsh travel to the European space station in Kourou, French Guiana, to learn all about it.

Ariane 6: What's New?

The last Ariane 5 rocket completed its final mission on July 5, 2023, after 27 years in service. The development of its successor Ariane 6 began almost a decade ago.

"During those nine years in which we developed Ariane 6, we introduced changes with a prime contractor and the industrialist to better serve evolving needs," explains Lucía Linares, the European Space Agency's Head of Strategy and Institutional Launches.

"That's the life of a means of transport to space or on Earth".

So, how different is Ariane 6 from its predecessor?

Versatility is the key attribute emphasised by officials in Kourou. Ariane 6 needs to be highly adaptable to compete in a market disrupted by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.

SpaceX's reusable rockets represent a major milestone in the space industry, making space travel more accessible and efficient by reducing costs.

"We can fly with three recognisable engines in three different missions. We have special equipment on board, the so-called APU (Auxiliary Power Unit), that helps us reignite the engine and bring our customers to completely different points in space and deliver them there," says Jens Franzeck, Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director of ArianeGroup.

"This is a huge difference. The missions will be longer, more versatile, and sometimes more complex. And this is where we want to go".

Ariane 6 can also operate with two or four boosters, depending on the thrust, orbit, and payload of the mission in question. Each booster, developed to flank the core, weighs 153 tons.

"Moving from Ariane 4 to Ariane 5 was a significant step because Ariane 4 used storable propellants, while Ariane 5 used liquid hydrogen and oxygen. This made the launch base for Ariane 5 completely different from that of Ariane 4, which caused many difficulties," says Jean-Michel Rizzi, Ariane 6 Launch Base Manager at ESA.

"However, the processes for Ariane 6 are almost identical to those of Ariane 5," he said.

A Made in Europe

Up to thirteen European countries, led by France, have collaborated on the development of Ariane 6. 

Italian aerospace companies have provided propulsion systems. Belgium's science policy office, BELSPO, and Belgian companies have contributed their expertise in areas such as telecommunications and satellite technology. 

Spanish companies have been involved in structural components and ground support equipment. 

Swiss companies have contributed precision engineering and components to the Ariane 6 programme, particularly in areas such as guidance and navigation systems. 

Dutch companies have provided expertise in areas such as avionics and payload integration for Ariane 6 missions.

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The giant rockets are back

The year 2024 is poised to be a landmark in the history of space exploration, with Ariane 6 joining an elite class of powerful rockets preparing to leave Earth.

On March 6, NASA successfully completed the sixth of 12 scheduled RS-25 engine certification tests for the Space Launch System (SLS), a pivotal component of the Artemis programme. 

This launcher is central to NASA's ambitions to return humans to the Moon and eventually conduct crewed missions to Mars.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk's SpaceX also has its sights set on lunar exploration. The company plans to conduct the fourth flight test of its Starship mega-rocket in June. 

This colossal rocket is essential for SpaceX’s goal to send both equipment and humans to the Moon and, ultimately, to Mars, reinforcing its vision of making humanity a multi-planetary species.

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Journalist • Marta Rodriguez Martinez

Additional sources • Jeremy Wilks

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