LES MUREAUX. France – Europe’s rocket industry has gone 40 years by integrating its Ariane rockets vertically and then rolling them out by rail, upright, to the launch pad. That is about to end.
The historical practice has produced the Final Assembly Building at Europe’s Guiana Space Center, an 83-meter-high steel structure.
But following a decision by Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) and the European Space Agency, the future Ariane 6 rocket will be assembled horizontally as a cost-saving measure.
Patrick Bonguet, head of Ariane 6 development at ASL, described some of the benefits of the change on April 6 during a press briefing at ASL’s facility here. Here are excerpts from his remarks.
“We are now in this mindset transformation, where people don’t now see all the benefits. For horizontal integration, the buildings are much more simple. There are no cranes and no hazardous moving operations. It also permits a good growth potential since it’s the kind of building you can expand.
“But the main benefit from horizontal integration is that the process is better able to support people. With vertical operations, people are alone on their platform at 20, 50 or 60 meters high. Nobody sees them. If they have a problem they have to call someone, or to go down and look for equipment or documentation.
“With horizontal, everything is visible. The second main interest, which is not so obvious immediately, is that it allows the creation of a production flow through a moving line. This creates a sense of urgency in the production. You do not just stand there while there is a problem when you have several integration stands in parallel.
“When you have a problem on one stand, you work on another one and then do catch-up on the first one. This is the discipline of the flow. We expect this will result in direct savings, but also indirect savings by improving the way we work and the way we deal with quality issues, providing quicker support to the teams and driving the process improvement.
“I should add that we have decided not to bother our customers with this aspect, unlike some of our competitors. Customers don’t much like having their spacecraft horizontal, then integrated onto the launcher and vibrating while going to the launch pad.
“They will be integrated as they are today – vertically. We put the fairing on them, and then at the last moment only are they put onto the launcher.”