Torek, 01 Januar 2013 18:06

Europe’s new rockets

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ariane-6-rocket-artBefore the Orion work shifts into gear, a pair of two-year studies is due to begin at the start of 2013 for the agency’s Ariane 5ME and Ariane 6 rockets. This is so ESA can make a decision about the future of its launchers in late 2014.

Operated by the company Arianespace, the workhorse Ariane 5 rocket launches ESA missions and commercial satellites. The rocket launches from the South American territory of French Guiana and is able to launch two spacecraft at a time. It first flew in 1997 and can launch up to 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) into orbit.

The new Ariane 5 version, the Ariane 5ME, has already been in development for many years and it had been planned to be operational from 2016. It will be the same height, excluding the nose cone, and weight as its predecessor, but will be able launch an additional 2,540 pounds (1152 kg) of payload, with a maximum payload of 24,640 pounds (11,176 kg) for geostationary orbits.

The Ariane 5ME will use a new upper stage and rocket engine, the Vinci, and has a larger nose cone. If approved in 2014, the Ariane 5ME could be operational towards the end of this decade.

However, ESA has concluded that it needs a simpler rocket that can launch more frequently with only one payload onboard. This is the planned Ariane 6, which was originally called Next Generation Launcher (NGL).

The Ariane 6 rocket has been the subject of numerous studies that have evaluated NGL versions that either only have solid rocket motors or only liquid fuel engines. According to Bonacina, for Ariane 6, the two year studies will determine, “what shape and configuration it will have and what kind of money will be needed over what timeframe”. Neither Ariane 5ME nor Ariane 6 will launch astronauts.

A decision on Ariane 6 was supposed to take place in 2012, but disagreement between France and Germany, the largest ESA budget contributors, saw a compromise. France was in favor of Ariane 6, while Germany wanted Ariane 5ME to go ahead.

“It was a heavy compromise between Germany and France. They all had their interesting points of view and a solution has been found,” Bonacina said. “The good thing is that Ariane 6 has started and Ariane 5ME continues in parallel.”

In April of this year, ESA expects to hit two rocket milestones. They include second launch of its latest rocket, Vega, which uses solid rocket motors for its first, second and upper stages. The Vega rocket will launch the Earth observation satellite, Proba-V. The V in Proba-V stands for vegetation because the satellite will monitor the Earth’s plant life. [Europe’s Vega Rocket 1st Launch (Photos)]

Then in mid or late April, the latest version of the Ariane 5 — the Ariane 5 ES — is due make its next launch. The Ariane 5 ES has an upper stage whose engine can reignite. This allows it to launch ESA’s robotic Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ships.

Europe’s ATV spacecraft deliver supplies to the International Space Station and propellant to raise the station’s orbit when needed. The ATV to be launched in April, called Albert Einstein, will be the fourth ESA’s five planned ATV missions to the space station.

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