Ariane 6

Ariane 6

Illustration of the two Ariane 6 variants planned, A62 (left) and A64 (right)
Function Medium-heavy launch vehicle
Manufacturer Airbus Safran Launchers
Project cost € 3.6 billion[1]
Cost per launch € 90 million (Ariane 64), 75 million (Ariane 62)[2] (2014 est.)
Height 63 m (207 ft)
Diameter 5.4 m (18 ft)
Mass 500,000–800,000 kg (1,100,000–1,800,000 lb)
Stages 2
Payload to GTO A62: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb)
A64: 11,000 kg (24,000 lb) or 10,000 kg (22,000 lb) with dual payload
Associated rockets
Family Ariane
Launch history
Status In Development
Launch sites Guiana Space Centre
First flight 2020 (planned)[3]

The Ariane 6 is a launch vehicle under development by the European Space Agency (ESA), with a first test flight scheduled for 2020.[4] If development is completed, it will become the newest member in the Ariane launch vehicle family. The final design was selected by the ESA ministerial-level meeting in December 2014,[5] favoring a liquid-fueled core with large solid rocket boosters over the initial solid-fuel rocket design.[6]


Ariane 6 will come in two variants.

Ariane 6 will be made up of three major structural and propellant-carrying components.

First stage

The Ariane 6 first stage will be powered by a single updated version of Ariane 5's Vulcain 2 engine, referred to by ASL as Vulcain 2.1, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX). It will be 5.4 m (18 ft) in diameter and contain approximately 149 tonnes (328,000 lb) of propellant.[9]

P120 solid rocket boosters

Additional thrust for the first stage will be provided by either two or four P120 Solid rocket boosters. These boosters will each contain approximately 145 tonnes (320,000 lb) propellant and will deliver up to 3,500 kN (790,000 lbf) thrust. Additionally, the P120 is intended to be used on an upgraded Vega launcher.[8]

Upper stage

The upper stage, also 5.4 m (18 ft) in diameter, will be powered by a Vinci engine providing 180 kN (40,000 lbf) thrust. It will contain approximately 30 tonnes (66,000 lb) LH2 and LOX propellant.[8]

Development history

Ariane 6 PPH

Ariane 6 PPH cutaway drawing

Following detailed definition studies in 2012,[10] the ESA announced the selection of the "PPH" configuration for Ariane 6 in July 2013. This design would be composed of three P145 solid rocket motors as a first stage, a single P145 motor as a second stage, and a third stage powered by the Vinci cryogenic engine burning LH2 and LOX. It would be capable of launching up to 6,500 kg (14,300 lb) to GTO,[11] with a first flight projected to be as early as 2021–22.[12] Development was projected to cost €4 billion as of May 2013.[13] A 2014 study concluded that development cost could be reduced to about 3 billion Euros by limiting contractors to five countries.[14]

While the Ariane 5 typically launches one large and one medium satellite at a time, the PPH proposal for Ariane 6 was intended for single payloads, with an early-2014 price estimate of approximately US$95 million per launch.[15] The SpaceX Falcon 9 and the Chinese Long March 3B both launch smaller payloads but at lower prices, approximately US$57 million and US$72 million respectively as of early 2014, with the Falcon 9 launch of a midsize satellite competitive with the cost of the lower slot of a dual payload Ariane 5.[15] For lightweight all-electric satellites, Arianespace intended to use the restartable Vinci engine to deliver the satellites closer to their operational orbit than the Falcon 9, significantly reducing the time required (several months for an all-electric satellite from a standard GTO) to transfer to geostationary orbit.[15]

Ariane 6.1 and Ariane 6.2

In June 2014 Airbus and Safran surprised the ESA by announcing a counter proposal for the Ariane 6. They also announced a 50/50 joint venture to develop the rocket. This joint venture would also involve buying out the French government's (CNES's) interest in Arianespace.[16][17]

This proposed launch system would come in two variants, the Ariane 6.1 and the Ariane 6.2.[18] While both would use a cryogenic main stage powered by a Vulcain 2 engine and two P145 solid boosters, the Ariane 6.1 would feature a cryogenic upper stage powered by the Vinci engine and boost up to 8,500 kg (18,700 lb) to GTO, while the Ariane 6.2 would use a lower-cost hypergolic upper stage powered by the Aestus engine. The Ariane 6.1 would have the ability to launch two electrically powered satellites at once, while the Ariane 6.2 was intended mostly for government payloads.

French newspaper La Tribune questioned if Airbus Space Systems could match promised costs for their Ariane 6 proposal, and whether Airbus and Safran Group could be trusted when they were found to be responsible for a failure of Ariane 5 flight 517 in 2002 and a more recent 2013 failure of the M51 ballistic missile.[6] The companies were also criticized for being unwilling to take the risks of development and asking for higher initial funding than originally planned to start development - €2.6 billion instead of €2.3 billion. Proposed launch prices of €85 million for Ariane 6.1 and €69 million for Ariane 6.2 were also deemed too high by the La Tribune in comparison to SpaceX[19] During the meeting of EU ministers in Geneva on 7 June 2014 these prices were deemed too high and no agreement with manufacturers was reached.[20]

Ariane 62 and Ariane 64

Originally proposed Ariane A62 and Ariane A64

Following criticism of the Ariane 6 PPH design, France unveiled a revised Ariane 6 proposal in September 2014.[21] This launcher would use a cryogenic main stage powered by the Vulcain 2 and upper stage powered by the Vinci, but vary the number of solid boosters. With 2 P120 boosters, Ariane 6 would launch up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to GTO at a cost of € 75 million. With 4 boosters, Ariane 6 would be able to launch two satellites totaling 11,000 kg (24,000 lb) at a cost of € 90 million.[22]

This proposal, unlike Ariane 6 PPH, offered a scalable launcher while retaining Ariane 5's dual-launch capability. The proposition also included simplification of the industrial and institutional organization along with a better and cheaper version of the Vulcain 2 engine for the main stage.[21][22] Although Ariane 6 was projected to have "lower estimated recurring production costs" it was projected to have "a higher overall development cost owing to the need for a new, Ariane 6-dedicated, launch pad."[23]

The Italian, French and German space ministers met on 23 September 2014 in order to plan strategy and assess the possibility for agreement on funding for the Ariane 5 successor,[24] and in December 2014 the ESA selected the Ariane 62 and Ariane 64 for development and funding.[5]

Further developments

In November 2015 an updated design of Ariane 64 and 62 was presented, with new nose cones on the boosters, main stage diameter increased to 5.4 metres (18 ft) and the height decreased to 60 metres (200 ft).[25] The basic design was finalized in January 2016, advancing the development into detailed design and production phases, with the first major contracts already signed.[26][27] Unlike previous Ariane rockets which are assembled and fueled vertically before being transported to the launchpad, the Ariane 6 main stages will be assembled horizontally at the new integration hall in Les Mureaux and then transported to French Guiana, where they will be erected and integrated with boosters and payload.[28] The horizontal assembly process was inspired by the Russian tradition for Soyuz and Proton launchers — which was more recently applied to the American Delta IV and Falcon 9 boosters[29] — with a stated goal of halving production costs.[30] The industrial production process was completely overhauled, allowing synchronized workflow between several European production sites moving at a monthly cadence, which would enable 12 launches per year, doubling Ariane 5's yearly capacity.[28] To further lower the price, Ariane 6 engines will use 3D printed components.[31] The Ariane 6 will be the first large rocket to utilise a laser ignition system which has been developed by Austrias Carinthian research center (CTR) and previously deployed in automotive and turbine engines.[32] A solid state laser offers an advantage over electrical ignition systems in that it is more flexible with regards to the location of the plasma within the combustion chamber, offers a much higher pulse power and can tolerate a wider range of fuel-air mixture ratios.[33]

Reorganization of the industry behind a new launch vehicle, leading to a creation of Airbus Safran Launchers, also started a review by the French government, into tax matters, and the European Commission over a possible conflict of interest if Airbus Defence and Space, a satellite manufacturer were to purchase launches from ASL.[31]

Proposed development options

CNES began studies in 2010[34] on an alternative, reusable first stage for Ariane 6, using a mix of liquid oxygen and liquid methane rather than hydrogen in the current Ariane 6 first-stage design. The methane-powered core would use one or more engines, matching capabilities of Ariane 64 with only two boosters instead of four. Economic feasibility of reusing an entire stage however remains in question. Con-current with the Liquid fly-back booster research in the late 90s and early 00s CNES along with Russia concluded studies indicating that reusing the first stage was economic nonsense as manufacturing of ten copies a year was cheaper and more feasible than recovery, refurbishment and loss of performance caused by reusability.[35]

In June 2015, Airbus Defence and Space announced that development of Adeline, a partially reusable first stage, would become operational between 2025 and 2030, and that it would be developed as a subsequent first stage for Ariane 6. Rather than developing a way to reuse an entire first stage (like SpaceX), Airbus proposed a system where only high-value parts would be safely returned using a winged module at the bottom of the rocket stack.[34]

In August 2016 Airbus Safran Launchers gave some more details about future development plans building on the Ariane 6 design. CEO Alain Charmeau revealed that Airbus Safran were now working along two main lines: first, continuing work (at the company's own expense) on the recoverable Adeline engine-and-avionics module; and second, beginning development of a next-generation engine to be called Prometheus. This engine would have about the same thrust as the Vulcain 2 currently powering Ariane 5, but would burn methane instead of liquid hydrogen. Charmeau was non-committal about whether Prometheus (still only in the first few months of development) could be used as an expendable replacement for the Vulcain 2 in Ariane 6, or whether it was tied to the re-usable Adeline design, saying only that "We are cautious, and we prefer to speak when are sure of what we announce. ... But certainly this engine could very well fit with the first stage of Ariane 6 one day."[3]


The Ariane 6 is being developed in a public-private partnership with the majority of the funding coming from various ESA government sources—€2.815 billion—while €400 million is reported to be "industry's share".[36]

The ESA ruling council approved the project moving forward on 3 November 2016, and the next and final step in funds being released is approval by the ESA Industrial Policy Council, expected 8 November.[37]

Launch contracts and scheduled flights

The first Ariane 6 launch contract was signed on 25 June 2015. It was an option for three launches of satellites for the OneWeb satellite constellation.[38]


  1. "Media backgrounder for ESA Council at Ministerial Level". ESA. 27 November 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  2. Dominique Gallois (1 December 2014). "Ariane 6, un chantier européen pour rester dans la course spatiale" [Ariane 6, a European site to remain in the space race] (in French). Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  3. 1 2 Clark, Stephen (13 August 2016). "Ariane 6 rocket holding to schedule for 2020 maiden flight". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
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  15. 1 2 3 Svitak, Amy (10 March 2014). "SpaceX Says Falcon 9 To Compete For EELV This Year". Aviation Week. Retrieved 11 March 2014. As SpaceX and other launch contenders enter the sector—including new rockets in India, China and Russia—Europe is also investing in a midlife upgrade of the Ariane 5, the Ariane 5 ME, which aims to boost performance 20% with no corresponding increase in cost. At the same time, Europe is considering funding a smaller, less capable but more affordable successor to the heavy-lift launcher, the Ariane 6, which would send up to 6,500 kg (14,330 lb.) to GTO for around $95 million per launch.
  16. de Selding, Peter (20 June 2014). "Airbus and Safran Propose New Ariane 6 Design, Reorganization of Europe's Rocket Industry". Space News. Retrieved 6 June 2015. European space-hardware builders Airbus and Safran have proposed that the French and European space agencies scrap much of their previous 18 months' work on a next-generation Ariane 6 rocket in favor of a design that includes much more liquid propulsion.
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  30. Clark, Stephen (16 December 2015). "Q&A with Stéphane Israël, chairman and CEO of Arianespace". Spaceflight Now. When it comes to Ariane 64, we are at around $90 to $100 million, as opposed to Ariane 5, which is in terms of cost, around $200 million. You see with the effort we’re making, we want to reduce the cost around 40/50 percent, which is very ambitious.
  31. 1 2 Amos, Jonathan (7 April 2016). "Ariane 6 project 'in good shape'". BBC News. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  32. <
  34. 1 2 Amos, Jonathan (5 June 2015). "Airbus unveils 'Adeline' re-usable rocket concept". BBC News. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
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  38. "OneWeb takes pole-position in global satellite Internet race". Space Digest. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015. In a press-release, Arianespace detailed that the contract foresees 21 Soyuz launches, plus an option for 5 additional Soyuz and three Ariane 6 missions. (...) Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, noted that this was the first order for new European Ariane 6 launcher.

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