The Ariane 5 rocket flew its last mission in June, leaving Europe without a heavy-lift vehicle to carry spacecraft to orbit.
Its operator, Arianespace, is working on the rocket’s successor, the Ariane 6, and revealed last week that it will take its maiden test flight no earlier than June 15, 2024.
On Sunday, the France-based aerospace company shared an animation (below) showing what a typical launch will look like, including the various phases of flight as the vehicle heads to orbit.
Arianespace is building two versions of the Ariane 6. Ariane 62 will fly with two strap-on boosters, while the more powerful Ariane 64 will fly with four.
“At over 60 meters tall, Ariane 6 will weigh almost 900 tons when launched with a full payload — roughly equivalent to one and a half Airbus A380 passenger aircraft,” Arianespace said in comments accompanying the video.
The rocket’s upper stage engine, called Vinci, is fed by liquid hydrogen and oxygen and can be stopped and restarted multiple times, making it ideal for missions in which multiple satellites need to be placed in different orbits.
This will be particularly useful in so-called “rideshare” missions that will allow multiple companies to join a single flight, thereby offering customers a more cost-effective way to deploy small satellites in space.
Following satellite deployment, the Ariane 6’s upper stage will deorbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, ensuring that it doesn’t become hazardous space junk that could otherwise threaten operational satellites in near-Earth orbit.
The development of the Ariane 6 is a mammoth project involving several hundred companies in 13 European countries, led by prime contractor ArianeGroup.
France’s space agency, CNES, is currently working on the Ariane 6 launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the same site from where the Ariane 5 departed in its final launch five months ago.
In development since 2014, the Ariane 6’s first flight was supposed to take place in 2020, but a number of delays pushed the date to next year.
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