WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency conducted a long-duration firing of an Ariane 6 prototype Nov. 23, one of the final tests before the agency is ready to set a date for the rocket’s inaugural launch.
The Vulcain 2.1 engine in the core stage of the Ariane 6 test model ignited at about 3:44 p.m. Eastern on the launch pad at Kourou, French Guiana. The start of the test was delayed by nearly 45 minutes when the countdown was stopped at 2 minutes and 42 seconds because of what ESA called “a small anomaly in the transient threshold pressure.”
The test firing was scheduled to last 470 seconds, mimicking a full burn of the core stage on an actual launch. Controllers announced a shutdown at the expected time, although the performance of the engine appeared to change in the final minute of the burn.
ESA said Ariane 6 “passed” the test in a statement shortly afterwards, describing it as a “seven-minute full firing” of the engine, rather than the nearly eight minutes advertised beforehand.
“The teams from ArianeGroup, CNES and ESA have now run through every step of the rocket’s flight without it leaving Earth,” said Josef Aschbacher, director general of ESA, in the statement. ArianeGroup is the prime contractor for the rocket and CNES is the French space agency.
“This milestone rehearsal comes after years of designing, planning, preparing, building and hard work from some of the finest space engineers in Europe,” he said. “We are back on track towards resecuring Europe’s autonomous access to space.”
Aschbacher and other ESA officials said this full-duration static-fire test was one of the last tests before the agency would announce a launch period for the first Ariane 6. “Depending on the outcome of this test, afterwards I will be in a position to announce a launch date for Ariane 6 for the inaugural flight,” he said during a Nov. 6 press briefing after a session of the European Space Summit in Seville, Spain.
There is one more hot-fire test of the Ariane 6 upper stage, examining its performance in degraded conditions. That test, at a facility in Germany, is scheduled for December.
Martin Sion, chief executive of ArianeGroup, said in a company statement there are a few additional tests of the rocket to “demonstrate fault tolerance,” as well as ship the flight hardware for the first launch to Kourou and perform a launch system qualification review. But, he said, “Ariane 6 now has a core stage and an upper stage which have undergone all testing necessary to be ready for the inaugural flight.”