Hot-firing test for Ariane 6 upper stage prepares way for first launch
- On 1 September 2023, the upper stage of the new European Ariane 6 launcher completed a further hot-firing test at DLR in Lampoldshausen.
- The test day, which lasted approximately 22 hours, reproduced the conditions that the upper stage will experience during its first mission.
- DLR and ArianeGroup carried out the test on the ESA P5.2 test stand.
- Focus: spaceflight, space propulsion, launch vehicle, Ariane 6, space transport
The newly designed upper stage of the European Ariane 6 launcher must pass extensive functional checks prior to its first launch. To this end, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Lampoldshausen together with ArianeGroup carried out a further hot-firing test on 1 September 2023 at the ESA P5.2 test stand. The special aspect on this occasion was that the test conditions corresponded to the flight scenario that the launch vehicle will experience during its first mission.
"I am very happy about the successful test and congratulate the teams from ArianeGroup, ESA and DLR on this successful cooperation. This test is a key milestone and an essential step in the qualification of the upper stage for its first flight," explained Walther Pelzer, Member of the DLR Executive Board and Director General of the German Space Agency at DLR. "DLR is renowned worldwide for its unique test infrastructure and is setting new standards in Europe with the P5.2 test stand. During the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level held in Paris in November 2022, the Member States agreed that Lampoldshausen is part of the strategic ESA infrastructure as a site for engine and stage tests," DLR Executive Board Member Pelzer continued.
Complex operational profile and important functional checks completed
The Ariane 6 upper stage is an entirely new design. It has been developed and constructed by ArianeGroup as lead industrial contractor and design authority on behalf of the European Space Agency ESA. It consists of two main tanks, one filled with liquid hydrogen and one with liquid oxygen, the Vinci engine, which can be re-ignited up to four times, and the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), an innovative multifunctional unit. The APU makes Ariane 6 even more versatile. With two ignitions of the Vinci engine and two ignitions of the APU, a very complex operational profile was simulated during this hot-firing test. "During previous work and tests carried out over the past months, we have already obtained important information and data about the stage. In this test, we have now taken another important step forward. We have succeeded in recreating a flight scenario on the test stand that corresponds to the requirements of the first flight of Ariane 6," described Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of the DLR Institute of Space Propulsion. "The result is a comprehensive dataset that must now be analysed and evaluated in detail by ArianeGroup."
Ariane 6 upper stage – designed for more flexible space missions
"This new successful test represents a very important milestone on the way to the first flight of Ariane 6. This success is the result of many decades of close and trust-based cooperation between ArianeGroup and DLR at the Lampoldshausen site. During these hot firing tests, the Ariane 6 upper stage manufactured at our Bremen site, together with the associated engine technology from Ottobrunn, is put through its paces. In a second step, it will then be tested together with the core stage manufactured in France. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the teams involved and also express my gratitude for the very good cooperation with DLR," said Pierre Godart, CEO ArianeGroup GmbH.
ESA Director of Space Transportation Toni Tolker-Nielsen thanked partners at DLR and Ariane 6 prime contractor ArianeGroup, who are running the tests at Lampoldshausen: "Ariane 6 represents a dramatic increase in our launch capability, and the upper stage with its re-ignitable Vinci engine will be transformative. The results from these tests gives us great confidence in the flexibility of this launch system to satisfy all mission requirements. Together with our partners we are making significant progress, and I look forward to the next stages of our Ariane 6 journey."
Many new technologies come together in the upper stage of Ariane 6. The Vinci engine, which can be re-ignited several times, and the APU, make more flexible mission profiles possible. The upper stage is designed in such a way that it will burn up completely in Earth’s atmosphere after payload deployment, leaving nothing behind. This is an important measure to avoid creating additional space debris.
DLR’s Lampoldshausen site is optimally positioned for testing pioneering space transport systems using its portfolio of test facilities. With this unique research infrastructure and its comprehensive expertise, DLR supports the German and European space industry in developing novel propulsion systems.
Demanding tests prior to first launch
A test day for the Ariane 6 upper stage lasts approximately 22 hours and requires several weeks of intensive preparations. During the test, the processes are simulated as they would occur during an actual launch. This includes filling the upper stage with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen and emptying the tanks at the end of the test. DLR and ArianeGroup collect a large amount of important data during the tests. These data include, for example, important insights for the evaluation of the ballistic phases in which the upper stage flies without thrust.
German participation in the Ariane programme
Germany is currently investing 44 million euros over the next three years through its ESA contribution to fund the engine test centre in Lampoldshausen. The German Space Agency at DLR manages the national ESA contributions on behalf of the Federal Government. At the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level held in Paris in November 2022, Germany subscribed almost 490 million euros to launcher activities and is the second largest Ariane 6 partner after France. Germany has a share of approximately 23 percent in the Ariane 6 development programme. The upper stage of the launcher is integrated at the ArianeGroup facility in Bremen.