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Meet Ariane 6, the rocket that will take Europe back to space

It is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon (9) first launch of Ariane 6 the rocket that promises to take the European Space Agency (ESA) back into space after the retirement of its predecessor, the Ariane 5.

For more than 25 years and 117 launches since its inauguration in 1996, Ariane 5 has been Europe’s main rocket, responsible for carrying dozens of satellites from the European Galileo network and even the James Webb Space Telescope into space. However, since its retirement in 2023, ESA has had no means of reaching space of its own.

“As the world’s second largest economy, Europe must ensure its access to space in a safe and autonomous manner, not dependent on the capabilities and priorities of other nations,” ESA said in a statement about the new rocket. “With the launch of Ariane 6, Europe is not just sending a rocket into the sky, we are affirming our place among the world’s spacefaring nations.”

What does the Ariane 6 rocket look like?

The Ariane 6 is designed to launch a variety of missions and will have two distinct versions, depending on the power required for each flight: Ariane 62, with two booster rockets, and Ariane 64, with four rockets.

In its first launch, the aircraft will have two auxiliary rockets, or boosters, used to increase force at the start of the launch, and an upper stage that can be reused up to four times, with technology that guarantees its return to Earth after the end of the mission.

The rocket is between 52 and 62 meters tall, 5.4 meters in diameter and can carry up to 540 or 870 tons (depending on the model). The Ariane 6 has three sections or stages: two or four boosters (depending on the model), the main lower stage and the upper stage.

The core stage is powered by the liquid-fueled Vulcain 2.1 engine – an upgraded engine derived from the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 – and the P120C solid propellant boosters to provide additional thrust at liftoff.

The upper stage is powered by the restartable Vinci engine and is fueled by cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen. This allows Ariane 6 to reach multiple orbits in a single mission and deliver more payloads at once.

The upper stage will burn as many times as necessary to reach the desired orbits and, after dropping off the payload, will perform a de-orbit maneuver and return to Earth, as a way to avoid increasing space debris (a novelty compared to its predecessor).

On its first mission, it is expected to carry several satellites, deployers and experiments from space agencies, companies, research institutes and universities.

The rocket was developed by an industrial network of professionals from 13 European countries, led by contractor ArianeGroup.

When and where will the launch be?

The debut launch of Ariane 6 is expected to take place on Tuesday (9), between 3pm and 7pm (Brasília time).

As with other Ariane rockets before this one, the launch will take place from the European air base in French Guiana. According to ESA, the location near the equator gives the spacecraft an extra boost due to the Earth’s rotation, increasing the launch power compared to points further north or south.

You can watch the launch live via from this link. The transmission starts half an hour before takeoff.

Three phases

The first flight of Ariane 6 will have three phases:

  1. From the ground to orbit: The rocket will be launched from Earth into space thanks to the main stage engine, Vulcain 2.1, together with the power of two powerful P120C boosters. It is at this stage that the upper stage separates from the main stage and the Vinci engine takes it into an orbit of 300 to 700 km above the Earth.
  2. Upper stage restart and satellite deployment: The rocket’s new feature, upper stage reusability, will be put to the test. The Vinci engine will be restarted to change Ariane 6’s orbit and deploy two batches of satellites into space.
  3. Deorbit: The final phase will reactivate the upper stage engine one last time for its reentry into our atmosphere, shortly after the separation of the two reentry capsules.

Source: CNN Brasil

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