Europe’s future launcher Ariane 6 has entered the first test campaign, marking a key milestone towards its development. Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL), the company that will manufacture the booster, has recently announced that it has begun the hot-fire testing activities of the rocket’s upper stage engine, named VINCI.
The tests that began in the first half of May are being conducted on the P4.1 altitude simulation test bench at the German Aerospace Centre’s (DLR) Institute of Space Propulsion in Lampoldshausen, Germany. This facility offers research activities and experiments relating to rocket test beds as well as fundamental research into the combustion processes in liquid rocket engines and air-breathing engines for future space transport systems. The Institute plans, builds and operates test beds for space propulsion systems on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) and in collaboration with the European space industry.
The current test phase of the VINCI engine, called M5R will last until September 2016. One of the tests includes burning this engine for up to 1,000 seconds.
According to ASL this test campaign permits to validate and qualify the operation of the engine on its operating points. The VINCI engine will be qualified prior to Ariane 6 launcher qualification.
The P4.1 altitude simulation test rig is used to qualify the engine for flight readiness. During the tests, the DLR researchers will acquire knowledge regarding the behavior of the VINCI engine. This knowledge will be crucial for ASL for final optimizations of the Ariane 6 launcher.
The aim of this campaign is to determine the final design of VINCI prior to the qualification campaign scheduled for 2017.
VINCI is entering, in a few months, the qualification phase after several years of development.
The facility in Lampoldshausen will also carry out fueling and hot running tests for the upper stage of the Ariane 6 launcher. DLR will built a special P5.2 test rig to conduct these tests.
Ariane 6 will be 207 feet (63 m) tall and 18 feet (5.4 m) in diameter. The “62” configuration will weigh around 500 metric tons at liftoff and is intended mainly for government and scientific missions. It will be capable of launching up to 5 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Ariane 64 will have a liftoff weight of around 800 metric tons and is intended for commercial dual-satellite launches of up to 10.5 metric tons into GTO.
Maiden orbital flight of Ariane 6 is currently scheduled for 2020. It will be used in parallel with Ariane 5 until 2023, when the older version will be retired after more than 25 years of service.
The first stage of Ariane 6 will have a new engine called Vulcain 2.1. This is an upgraded version of the Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine. DLR's P5 test stand in Lampoldshausen is currently being adapted to the new requirements for the development and qualification tests of the Vulcain 2.1, which are planned for 2017.