Sep 28, 2021
The new launch complex built for Europe’s upcoming Ariane 6 rocket is inaugurated at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
With this, ESA celebrates another important milestone in the Ariane 6 roadmap as it forges ahead with combined tests between launch vehicle and launch base and preparations towards the first launch campaign.
Clearly visible from space, the facilities feature remarkable complex structures above and below ground specially designed to support Ariane 6 launches into the next decade. It is the proud achievement of the French space agency, CNES – prime contractor to ESA for the development of the launch base, and its European industry partners.
The Ariane 6 programme is funded and developed by ESA. This new launch vehicle will replace Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5. Available in two versions, with either two or four boosters, Ariane 6 will offer more performance and flexibility than its predecessor. This opens new opportunities and guarantees continued access to space for ESA Member States.
The Ariane 6 launch complex is a marvel of engineering, designed to optimise the launch system performance and operations workflow. Its design benefits from lessons learned in the construction and operation of the existing Ariane, Vega and Soyuz launch complexes at the spaceport.
The main elements include the launch pad with two exhaust ducts, the mobile gantry and the launch vehicle assembly building.
The launch pad is 28.5 m deep and 200 m wide. Its basic structure was poured in concrete the volume of 67 Olympic-sized swimming pools. At its centre is the launch table which weighs 700 tonnes and is 4 m high, 20 m long, and 18 m wide. This structure was built in Europe by MT Aerospace in Germany and shipped to Kourou for integration on the launch pad. Below ground it protects a host of support systems and will bear the weight of Ariane 6.
Ariane 6’s final integration will take place inside a mobile gantry, just like Soyuz and Vega. The mobile gantry was manufactured in Europe by Eiffage Metal in Germany and was assembled at the spaceport. It will protect Ariane 6 on the launch table during each launch campaign.
This 90 m-high by 50 m-wide gantry weighs 8200 t – more than a thousand tonnes heavier than France's Eiffel Tower. Work platforms will enable engineers to access the vehicle levels to vertically position Ariane 6’s central core directly on the launch table, add two or four boosters depending on the launch configuration, and integrate the fairing that houses the payload. The gantry retracts 140 m on rails before launch. If the launch is delayed the gantry can be rolled back in place to allow access to Ariane 6 before its next launch attempt.
The Ariane 6 core and upper stages will be integrated horizontally inside the launch vehicle assembly building and prepared for rollout to the launch zone. The building is 20 m tall, 112 m long and 41 m wide, some 1 km from the launch zone.
Horizontal integration lowers the cost of facilities and launcher integration while offering a higher level of flexibility and growth potential and allowing easier access to the whole rocket. Overall, the improved Ariane 6 approach to integration and operations will reduce the duration of a launch campaign from months to weeks.
ESA’s contract with CNES for the launch base development worth €600 million was signed in 2015. CNES allocated a third of this funding to infrastructure with notable involvement of local industry for construction, materials and equipment, and the remainder to contracts in mainland Europe.
The systems that are part of the main launch complex structures are being qualified. For example, the deluge system which will protect Ariane 6 and ground installations from the acoustic energy created at liftoff was tested. The disconnection of the fluidic systems for Ariane 6 on the launch pad, tested in France, are now being tested on the launch pad. A central core mockup was used to test ground equipment and practise the manoeuvres involved in a launch campaign. France’s space agency (CNES) and ArianeGroup teams jointly performed these tests under the responsibility of ESA.
Further combined tests between launcher and launch base are under way.
“The Ariane 6 launch complex is a remarkable achievement and an icon of European cooperation and advancement. It represents a vital part of a programme of intense activity at Europe’s Spaceport to prepare for the first flight of ESA’s next generation launch vehicle,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.
The inauguration was held in the presence of Sébastien Lecornu, French Minister of the Overseas, Philippe Baptiste, President Director General of CNES, and Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation. Also present were industry partners André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup, Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, and Gabriel Serville, President of the Territorial Collectivity of French Guiana.