Ariane 6 – rocket delayed for 10 years?

Safran, French company responsible for Ariane 5 is currently developing new rocket to meet demands of increasing price competition on space market but it seems that new launch vehicle will have hard life.

Economy of the space market is under current development is basically two ways. First of all prices of satellites decreased with increased availability of satellite technology. Cubesat revolution was spotted by potential customers with not enough funds for manufacturing regular satellite and number of companies offering small and affordable satellites is still increasing. Second trend was answer for new demands - in America, China, India space companies are developing new, more economical launch vehicles to provide low prices for new customers. In 2014 ESA tried to do it in own way - unfortunately without positive effect.

In 2014, after four years of research, ESA started final development of new rocket and resigned from new version of Ariane, called Ariane 5 ME. New rocket was named Ariane 6 and was at the beginning considered as solid fueled, single stage with solid fueled boosters, launch vehicle able to lift smaller satellites with lower cost, comparing to larger Ariane 5. In 2013, one year before final decision on shape of future rocket, ESA confirmed that Ariane 6 will be solid fueled at first two stages, with liquid fueled upper stage supported by solid fueled boosters. Novelty was using identical cores for two stages and also as boosters for reducing cost of manufacturing. Conception combined simplicity and ease of maintenance of solid fueled engines with reduced cost of manufacturing was expected to give significant price reduction with launch cost under 70€ million. Unfortunately conception was changed to liquid fueled three stages rocket with solid fueled boosters. In June 2014 main contractor, French company Safran announced that will establish joint-venture with Airbus Defence and Space for designing and further manufacturing Ariane 6. With this change came evolutional proposition of buying 35% of shares of ESA which are in possession of French space agency CNES and less evolutional but still strange idea of changing conception of Ariane 6. After one and half year of developing solid fueled rocket, Safran decided that Ariane 6 will became liquid fueled. Ariane 6 became another rocket then ESA planned at the beginning. Now it was proposed as two stage rocket where main stage became cryogenic and powered by one Vulcan-2 engine and supported by two solid boosters. First version, Ariane 6.1 would utilize upper cryogenic stage powered by Vinci engine (developed earlier for Ariane 5 ME) with payload capacity at 8500 kg. This version was intended for commercial use and was designed to lift two satellites in one mission. Next proposed version was named Ariane 6.2 and was designed to be utilized during missions with government payloads. It was supposed to be equipped with hypergolic upper stage with Aestus engine. Unfortunately with changes in construction also changed declared cost of one launch. With Ariane 6.1 cost at €85 million was not acceptable and comparing to offer of SpaceX (around $57 million) was quite far from assumed by ESA at the beginning. Safran decided to meet demands of ESA and gave a proposition of next version of Ariane 6 on September 2014. It was called Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 and in general was named as PHH configuration. It was obvious that changes implemented during two months would not be revolution. New rockets vary only with number of boosters. Ariane 62 was equipped with two boosters and was able to lift 5000 kg during GTO mission. Ariane 64 with four boosters was able to lift up to 110000 kg to GTO. Costs were still not fitting in ESA plans. Mission of Ariane 62 would cost €75 million and Ariane 64 around €90 million. On December 2014 ESA has been committed to accept proposition of Ariane 62 and 64. At present state, Ariane 6 is two stage rocket with cryogenic first and second stage supported by 2 or 4 solid fueled P120 boosters. Rocket will be height for 63 m with diameter at 5.3 m and mass fitting in range from 500000 kg to 800000 kg. First test launch is planned for 2020. First contract for launch in 2021 was already signed for OneWeb communication satellites.