Airbus Safran promotes launch record ahead of Ariane 6 entering production

by Chris Bergin

Airbus Safran Launchers, which now owns the majority stake in Arianespace, has issued a statement of intent, promoting Ariane 5’s track record as it prepares to enter the production phase of its next-generation launcher, the Ariane 6. The new rocket is set to become operational in 2020.

Ariane Transition:

Airbus Safran Launchers is looking towards the future, as Arianespace fights for its place in an increasingly competitive launch services market.

Arianespace’s current workhorse, the Ariane 5, is performing flawlessly and – via its successful 2016 campaign –  broke Ariane 4’s record of 74 successful launches in a row. The company also noted the rocket also broke a number of other records: performance, the number of satellites placed in orbit and mission duration.

“Operation of Ariane 5 will continue, with seven launches scheduled for the year (2017), while continuing to further improve launcher performance and cost reductions, in a market where competition is increasingly fierce.”

Due to the increase in competition, launch companies are evolving their rockets to fine-tune the aim of ensuring reliability with cost.

The main driver – as much as some companies won’t openly admit to it – is SpaceX. European officials have been more vocal, with Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of CNES, saying “SpaceX is like a giant wake-up call,” in an interview with Bloomberg.

“Many in Europe thought Elon Musk was just hot air, even among the big shots in the space industry. But he showed he was able to do it, to potentially reuse rockets one day. He’s clearly shaking things up.”

Despite SpaceX’s static fire accident in 2016, companies are lining up to ride on Falcon 9 and future Falcon Heavy launches.

Some companies have moved their payloads to other launchers, but this has mainly related to scheduling requirements, as was the case with a recent switch of an Inmarsat satellite from riding on a Falcon 9 to joining forces with Ariane 5.

Arianespace also operates the Soyuz launcher from the Guiana Space Centre, with the launch of Hispasat 36W-1 satellite on the Russian rocket set to take place on Friday. Ariane 5 will next be in action with the dual launch of the Intelsat 32e/Sky Brasil 1 & Telkom 3S satellites on February 14.

Arianespace’s future will see two new rockets enter service, with the Vega C and the Ariane 6 launch vehicles.

The Ariane 6 will be an evolution via integration streamlining and innovated design changes are major elements, which will play into reducing costs.

The Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1 engine is built with fewer parts while holding a greater efficiency, while the improved Vinci upper stage will allow for additional orbital destinations for more flexibility via a wider reignition capability.

The new era will also see Ariane 6 and Vega C brought closer together via the synergy of the boosters.

2016-07-25-223402Cross-rocket streamlining will be involved for the upgraded Vega C rocket, which is the new version of Arianespace’s small lift capability rocket, Vega.

With Ariane 6 (62 and 64) using the P120c solid motor as boosters, the motor will also be the first stage of the Vega C. This will provide the company with three platforms for specific customers.

Streamlining on the operational and integration side will see Ariane 6 and Vega C move into horizontal processing, with the boosters undergoing production at the new facility at Kourou.

Arianespace believes a focus on this approach of reducing costs is a bigger priority than the promotion of reusability. Officials have previously noted they are “watching” SpaceX to see if returning boosters back to Earth for reuse is “cost effective”.

If – as is expected – SpaceX shows reusability is an obvious business case for all launch companies, Arianespace has plans.

Led by Airbus, the concept for a partially reusable system codenamed Adeline (ADvanced Expendable Launch with INnovative engine Economy) is being evaluated.

2015-06-19-204716Under this system, which Airbus believes could easily be incorporated into the Ariane 6’s design between 2025 and 2030, the Ariane 6’s first stage engines and avionics packages would detach from the first stage after use, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, and then fly itself back to a runway at or near the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana.

Later, the company said it was actively working on a project it calls “Prometheus”, a very low-cost reusable engine project, which will make extensive use of 3D printing.

Airbus currently believes that this type of reuse system could help offset 20 percent to 30 percent of the total cost of a flight and could result in the engines and avionics packages being re-flown between 10 to 20 times.

However, the company believes it can save 50 percent of costs based on its “integration streamlining and innovated design changes”.

“In 2016, Airbus Safran Launchers kept all its promises, placing Ariane 6 firmly on track, while continuing to ensure that Ariane 5 remains reliable and competitive.  However, this is just the beginning of the adventure and, in 2017, we will be kicking off the production of Ariane 6, to ensure that we are ready in 2020.”

(Images: via Arianespace, Airbus and L2)

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