ExplainerLaunch

ESA Floats Ariane 6 Upgrade

Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG - JM Guillon
Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG – JM Guillon

Image credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique vidéo du CSG – JM Guillon

The European Space Agency announced last week that it intends to develop an upgraded solid rocket booster for the Ariane 6 and Vega vehicles. 

So, what’s new? Well, the proposed P120C+ booster will be ~1 meter taller than the current P120, which would allow for an extra 14t of solid propellant. According to ESA, the new booster would increase the performance of the Ariane 64 by up to 2,000kgs “for a typical mega-constellation deployment mission.” 

But why? ESA’s thinking is that P120C+ could boost the competitiveness of Ariane 6 and Vega-C in the launch marketplace, and expand the range of missions they could take on. 

  • ESA will present plans for the P120C+ to Member States for approval at the agency’s ministerial-level council meeting in Paris this November.
  • If approved by Member States, the new booster is slated to enter service around mid-2025.

A little background

ArianeGroup will make Ariane 6 and Arianespace will operate it. ESA is overseeing the rocket’s development, working with a very tiny industrial network of 600+ companies in 13 European countries. 

  • 6’s design philosophy = preserve the Ariane 5’s heritage, expand flexibility, and cut costs through industrial streamlining. 
  • Part and parcel of that streamlining is using P120C for both Ariane 6 variants, the Avio Vega C, and eventually, the Vega E (expected to enter service in 2026).
  • Ariane 6 can be launched in two configurations. The Ariane 62, which will take over duties from the benched Soyuz ST, has two boosters. The Ariane 64 has (unsurprisingly) four.
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