Wet Dress Rehearsal is Finished by Ariane 6

The last significant stage before its maiden flight in July, Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket has finished a fueling test and countdown rehearsal.

On June 21, the European Space Agency announced that it and its associates have finished a wet dress rehearsal at the French Guiana launch site the day before. During the test, the rocket underwent a countdown that ended just before engine ignition while being loaded with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants.

The wet dress rehearsal is the last stage before launch, according to a statement from Guy Pilchen, the project manager for the Ariane 6 launcher at ESA. According to him, vehicle teams are able to “fine-tune the delicate operations required up until liftoff, using the real rocket’s actual flight hardware and software for the first time” during this test, which is typical for new launch vehicles.

The test was postponed two days from its initial June 18 date. At a briefing held on June 19 following the ESA Council meeting, representatives from the agency stated that the slip was not connected to any significant issues and would not postpone the vehicle’s July 9 launch date, which had been previously announced.

“The preparations towards the inaugural flight are really, really progressing well,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher stated at the briefing. This involved installing the payloads and fairing on the rocket’s upper stage on June 14 and closing out any outstanding issues from the vehicle’s certification evaluation.

“There is no showstopper, so everything proceeds nominally, but there is still, of course, a lot of work to be done towards the inaugural flight,” he stated.

The data analysis from the wet dress rehearsal will continue until June 26th, according to the ESA announcement announcing its completion. To address pre-launch preparations, ESA has also arranged a series of media briefings for June 25.

In order to resolve a “launcher crisis” that has momentarily denied Europe autonomous access to space, Ariane 6 is essential to ESA’s efforts. The crisis was brought on by a number of factors, including the Vega C rocket’s issues that have prevented it from being used since a failure almost a year and a half ago, the Soyuz rocket’s loss of access following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago, and delays in the development of Ariane 6, which delayed its introduction until after the final launch of Ariane 5 nearly a year ago.

An deal for “stabilized exploitation” of the Ariane 6 and Vega C was revealed by ESA in November 2023. Part of this arrangement involved Ariane 6 receiving financial assistance of 340 million euros ($364 million) annually. According to that agreement, the businesses creating Ariane 6 must cut expenses by 11%.

At the briefing, Aschbacher stated, “We are on track for that reduction.” He continued, “Lots of discussions have taken place with some of the key suppliers,”  “good progress in the last couple of days.”

Regarding the cost reduction, ESA’s head of space transportation, Toni Tolker-Nielsen, stated, “We are making steady progress.” He said that the price reduction would be implemented by an unidentified German partner on the vehicle, “so that’s a major step ahead.”

The agreement from November 2023 also stipulated that Avio, the rocket’s prime contractor, would take over from Arianespace as the entity responsible for Vega C launch services. Executives at Avio stated last month that talks were ongoing on such transfer.

According to Aschbacher, ESA was asked to mediate talks between the two businesses in recent weeks over the agreement to transfer control of Vega C operations at one of the businesses’ request. He declared, “The conditions for the transfer of Vega C from Arianespace to Avio are clear,” “We have made enormous progress and are very close, I would say, to having closed the open items.” He did not go into detail about the matters that needed to be mediated by ESA.

Aschbacher announced that the ESA Council will have a second meeting before the end of the month to complete the transfer, instead of taking up a resolution sanctioning it at the meeting that ended on June 19.

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