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ar64seps.jpg (7873 bytes)Ariane 6
by Ed Kyle
Updated 07/28/2018

Vehicle Configurations

Vehicle Components

Ariane 6 Launch History

Ariane 6-4 Booster Separation

p7cs.jpg (15650 bytes)Getting to Ariane 6

P7C Concept for Ariane 6

During November, 2012, a European Space Agency Council approved funding both for Ariane 5 ME (Midlife Extension) development and for detailed definition studies of a new launcher named Ariane 6.  Plans called for Ariane 6 to use as many elements as possible from Ariane 5 ME.  Both efforts were funded for two years.   A final decision on the continuation of both launchers would be made in 2014.

Ariane 5 ME improves existing Ariane 5 ECA performance by using an improved second stage that will be powered by the restartable Vinci liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine.  The upgraded rocket will lift up to 12 tonnes to GTO, with a maiden flight expected to occur in 2017 or 2018.  The Ariane 5 ME approval was a win for Germany's Ariane 5 prime contractor Astrium.  The development effort is expected to cost €1.4 billion ($1.8 billion).

Like its Ariane predecessors, Ariane 5 ME is designed to carry two satellites on each GTO mission.  Ariancespace has found it more and more difficult to match payloads for such missions.  Ariane 6, as a result, was conceived by French space agency CNES as a rocket optimized to launch one satellite at a time for the least amount of money. 

A critical factor in the design was the likely range of future communication satellite weights, which initial studies determined could range from 2 to 8 tonnes with most payloads in the 3 to 6.5 tonne range. 

p1bs.jpg (20134 bytes)P1B Concept for Ariane 6

CNES studied a variety of Ariane 6 alternatives, including some early concepts that used the Ariane 5 core but with smaller, less expensive monolithic solid boosters, but studies eventually settled on three potential options.  All three options would use the 5.4 meter diameter Vinci powered upper stage from Ariane 5 ME and a 5.4 meter diameter payload fairing.  Variantions involved the lower stage combinations.  Two options used solid motors while a third used a liquid first stage with solid strap-on boosters.

The liquid alternative, dubbed H2C, would use zero to six solid P33 ("P" for solid, "33" for the propellant tonnes) strap-on boosters to augment an H165 core stage ("H" means hydrogen and "165" refers to the tonnes of propellant carried) powered by two 150 tonne thrust engines derived from Ariane 5's existing Vulcain 2 main engine.  The Vinci powered second stage would weigh 31 tonnes.  H2C would lift up to 8.4 tonnes to GTO with six boosters, or 2.2, 5.6, and 6.7 tonnes for zero, two, or four boosters respectfully.

The first solid motor option, named P1B, would use two 3.7 meter diameter solid motor stages, augmented by strap on solid motors, topped by the Vinci upper stage.  All of the solid motors would be monolithic (no motor segments) to cut costs and would use composite cases to improve propellant mass ratios.  The P180 first stage (180 tonnes of propellant) would be topped by a P110 second stage.  A varying number of P39 strap on boosters would provide a range of payload capabilities.  The boosters would likely consist of sets of ground and air ignited motors.  The ground-lit boosters would be jettisonned upon burnout.  P1B would be able to lift 8.1 tonnes to GTO with six boosters, or 2.1, 5.0, and 6.5 tonnes for zero, two, or four boosters respectfully.

arianeme6s.jpg (5908 bytes)Ariane 5 ME and Ariane 6 P7C Comparison

A second solid motor alternative was P7C.  Rather than the three varying types of solid motors used by P1B, P7C would use combinations of only one type of solid motor.  One 3.7 meter diameter P135 motor would serve as the rocket's second stage.  Two or three P135 motors would be combined to work as a first stage, with all of the motors firing and separating together.  Although promising lower costs, P7C was also more limited since its two variants could carry a maximum of either 3.4 tonnes or 6.5 tonnes to GTO.

One advantage of the P7C is that its "smaller" P135 motors (which would still be the world's largest monolithic solid motors) might offer a path to upgrade Vega, Europe's small all-solid launch vehicle.  Vega's current first stage is a P80 monolithic, which is currently the world's largest non-segmented solid motor.

CNES favored the solid motor designs, which its studies showed offered better cost competitiveness than the cryogenic core design.  The improved Vulcain 2 engine development effort would have been costly, as would have been use of two of the engines on each flight.  

At the end of January, 2013, Astrium announced that it had won an Ariane 6 design contract.  The company would perform initial definition and feasibility studies for the future Ariane 6, aiming to pin down the launcher's primary specifications.  Astrium would study the "PPH" (solid-solid-liquid hydrogen) design alternatives capable of lifting 3 to 6.5 tonnes to GTO.  An important design goal was a per-launch price of €70 million Euros.

Ariane62.jpg (10803 bytes)Revised 2014 Concepts

Ariane 62 Design (ESA)

The CNES "Multi-P" design remained controversial outside France.  In July 2014, Airbus-Safran announced a joint venture that proposed an alternative Ariane 6 design.  It used two liquid hydrogen stages boosted by two monolithic solid rocket motors.  Unlike earlier cryogenic core designs, the first stage was powered only by a single Vulcain 2 engine.  An Ariane 6-1 "Heavy" version would use the 5.4 meter diameter Vinci powered upper stage from Ariane 5 ME to lift up to 8.5 tonnes to GTO.   An Ariane 6-2 variant would use the ES/Aestus engine-powered hypergolic second stage to handle Soyuz-class "Medium" payloads.  The rocket would use the existing Ariane 5 launch pad, with modifications.

By early October, 2014, the Airbus-Safran design had been further revised with the involvement of ESA to cut costs.  The hypergolic upper stage was eliminated, leaving only the Vinci powered upper stage.  Two variants were instead created by varying the number of solid rocket motors, which were reportedly "P120" motors loaded with 120 tonnes of propellant.  An Ariane 6-2 version would use two of the motors to lift up to 5 tonnes to GTO for a predicted launch cost of $95 million.  It would mostly handle single-satellite missions.  The Ariane 6-4 version would use four of the motors to lift 11 tonnes to GTO for about $117 million, enough capability to handle two satellites at once like Ariane 5 ECA. 

The P120 solid rocket motors would be common with Vega-C, a planned evolution of the current Vega launcher.

The modified Airbus-Safran design would use a 4.6 meter diameter first stage loaded with 149 tonnes of propellant.  Each P120 booster would be about 3.022 meters in diameter and 17.74 meters long.  The entire rocket would stand about 63 meters tall, more than 5 meters taller than Ariane 5.

The resulting joint ESA-industry proposal for Ariane 6 was presented to the Council at Ministerial level in December 2014.  The Council was expected to choose between accelerated Ariane 6 development and continued Ariane 5 ME development at that time.  A complication that arose was that the new Ariane 6 design would not be able to use the existing Ariane 5 ELA 3 launch site, requiring the costly development of a new facility.  Development costs for Ariane 6-2 were, as a result, projected to rise to $5.2 billion.

The 2014 Decision

On December 2, 2014, the European Space Agency Council at Ministerial level agreed to accelerate Ariane 6 development while foregoing previously planned Ariane 5 ME development.  The Council selected a new Ariane 6 design that represented months of engineering and political compromise.  The new rocket, expected to enter service in 2020, will replace Ariane 5 and, likely, Soyuz out of Kourou. 

The new Ariane 6 design would use two liquid hydrogen stages boosted by two to four monolithic solid rocket motors.  It wis based on a mid-2014 Airbus-Safran joint venture proposal that won out over the previously approved CNES "Multi-P" design.  Unlike earlier cryogenic core designs, the first stage would be powered only by a single Vulcain 2 engine that would produce about 138 tonnes of thrust.  It would be loaded with up to 149 tonnes of propellant.  The second stage would be loaded with about 30 tonnes of propellant and would be boosted by the Vinci engine originally developed for Ariane 5 ME.  Vinci would produce about 18.35 tonnes of thrust.  Both stages would be 4.6 meters diameter, smaller than the 5.4 meter diameter Ariane 5 tanks.  Early concepts called for a 5.4 meter diameter second stage.   

Two to four monolithic solid rocket motors would power Ariane 6 off its launch pad.  Each P120 composite-case motor would be loaded with about 120 tonnes of propellant and produce about 357 tonnes of thrust.  The P120 solid rocket motors would be common with Vega-C, a planned evolution of the current Vega launcher.   Each P120 booster would be about 3.022 meters in diameter and 17.74 meters long. 

ar6sides.jpg (10925 bytes)Ariane 6 Would Stand 20 Meters Taller than Ariane 5

An Ariane 6-2 variant would use two of the motors to lift up to 5 tonnes to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) for a predicted launch cost of $97 million.  It would primarily handle single-satellite government missions.  An Ariane 6-4 version would use four of the motors to lift 10.5 to 11 tonnes to GTO for about $140 million, enough capability to handle two satellites at once like Ariane 5 ECA. 

With seperate bulkhead propellant tanks and a long interstage to allow Vinci to use a fixed nozzle extension, Ariane 6 could end up standing up to 70 meters tall, about 20 meters taller than Ariane 5 ECA.  Ariane 6-2 would weigh about 500 tonnes at liftoff while Ariane 6-4 would weigh 800 tonnes. 

The new Ariane 6 will require an all-new launch complex, which will include a 100 meter tall vertical assembly building.  The new launch complex was expected to cost more than $850 million.  The entire Ariane 6 development effort was expected to cost nearly $5 billion.

a64isos.jpg (3875 bytes)Design Evolves in 2015

Ariane 64 Design as of November 2015

In early November, 2015, Airbus-Safran released drawings that showed a fatter, shorter Ariane 6.  The core diameter had increased to 5.4 meters, the same diameter as the payload fairing and the same as Ariane 5.   The fatter core had reduced overall vehicle height to 60 meters, which would make it only slightly taller than Ariane 5.  A single Vulcain V2.1 was identified as the core stage propulsion.

The strap on solid rocket motors were identified as P120C motors.   Their nose fairings were elongated and they tapered in toward the core stage intertank section, another change from earlier plans.

Liftoff mass for Ariane 62 was given as "~500 tonnes" and for Ariane 64 as "~800 tonnes".


Development Milestones

The first full-up Vulcain 2.1 ground test firing was performed on January 22, 2018 at DLR's Lampoldshausen, Germany test site, at the P5 test facility. 

The first P120C test firing took place on July 16, 2018 at Kourou.  It was the first of three such qualification test firings planned to occur before P120C debuts on the inaugural Vega-C flight, expected to take place in 2019. 

Launch site construction was well underway by early 2018, aiming for a first launch in 2020.   

Vehicle Configurations

  LEO Payload
(metric tons)
(1) (200 km ISS)
(2) (700 km SSO)
GTO Payload
1500 m/s
to GEO*
(metric tons)
(22,200 km
x  56 deg)
GEO Earth Escape Configuration LIftoff Height
Liftoff Mass
(metric tons)
Ariane 62 10 t (1)
6.15 t (2)
4.5-5.0 t 1.7 t - 2.4-2.6 t LLPM + 2xP120C
~63 m 530 t
Ariane 64 20 t (1)
14.5 t (2)
11.5 t - ~5t 7.4 t LLPM + 4xP120C
~63 m 860 t

* GEO: Geosynchronous Earth Orbit

Vehicle Components

Solid Rocket
Motor (Each)
Lower Liquid
Propulsion Module
Upper Liquid
Propulsion Module
Diameter (m)  3.4 m 5.4 m 5.4 m      
Length (m) 13.5 m  m  m      
Propellant Mass (tons) 142 t ~140 t ~31 t      
Total Mass (tons)  t  t  t      
Engine P120C Vulcain 2.1 Vinci
Fuel Solid HTPB LH2 LH2      
Oxidizer Solid HTPB LOX LOX      
Thrust ~400 t ~140 t (vac) 18.14 t      
ISP (vac sec)  s
~318/429 s
431.2 s      
Burn Time (sec) 135 s  s  s      
No. Engines 1 1 1      

Vehicle Components, Cont'd

  VEB Sylda 5 Speltra Short Fairing Medium Fairing Long Fairing  
Diameter (meters) 5.4 m   5.4 m 5.4 m 5.4 m 5.4 m  
Length (meters) 1.56 m   7 m 12.7 m 13.8 m 17 m  
Mass (tons) 1.9 t 0.425-0.5 t 0.716-0.822 t 2.00 t 2.13 t 2.5 t  
Ariane 6 Launch History 

DATE     VEHICLE           ID      PAYLOAD                    MASS(t) SITE*   ORBIT**
mm/dd/yy Ariane 6          L601    xx                         nn      KO 4    nnn



Ariane 6 User's Manual, Arianespace, March 2018