Ariane 6 Second Stage Breathes Fire

ArianeGroup and DLR fire up a Ariane 6 second stage for the first time.
Credit: ESA – D. Ducros

Europe’s next-gen Ariane 6 launch vehicle has taken a major step towards the launchpad with the first successful hot fire test of a complete second stage.

The test was conducted by DLR and prime contractor ArianeGroup on October 5 with the Vinci-powered Ariane 6 second stage on its dedicated P5.2 test bench in Lampoldshausen, Germany. 

This firing start is the first in a series of hot fire tests that are required to qualify the Ariane 6 upper stage. A minimum of three additional tests will need to be performed before the stage is rated fit for flight.

Once the hot fire test series has been completed, the stage will be shipped off to ESA’s ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre) in the Netherlands for stage separation and acoustic tests. 

Made for flight: All of the major components of the first Ariane 6 to take flight are, according to ArianeGroup, currently being integrated and completed at the company’s production sites in Bremen and Les Mureaux.

Delays and a sad-looking launch manifest

ESA had hoped to debut Ariane 6 in late 2022. However, during a BBC HardTalk interview in June, ESA DG Josef Aschbacher revealed that Ariane 6 would not be launched until “sometime next year.”.

This latest delay piled onto ESA’s space access worries that started with the agency selecting to indefinitely suspend the use of Soyuz launch vehicles in early 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Europe’s Ariane 5 launch vehicle is also on the cusp of retirement with just three missions left to be launched. 

ESA has, as a result, been forced to make the unprecedented move of looking elsewhere for launch vehicles. In August it was revealed that ESA had begun preliminary talks with SpaceX to fill the gap between the retirement of Ariane 5 and the operational readiness of Ariane 6. 

The talks with SpaceX are, however, still only in the early stages and are doing very little to diminish fears that Europe could be forced to endure a period without a ride to space.