Europe’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket just took a big step towards its first, much-awaited launch.
The rocket’s core stage Vulcain 2.1 engine burned liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for four seconds on a launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Sept. 5.
The hot firing went smoothly and to plan, following earlier delays to the test schedule. It marks significant progress as the European Space Agency (ESA) and the rocket’s developers look to get the launcher flying next year.
ESA oversaw the test conducted by French space agency CNES and prime contractor ArianeGroup. It involved a launch sequence and final countdown representative of a launch, ESA said.
“This successful hot-fire test of the core stage supplements the test performed on July 18 and is a major step towards qualification of Ariane 6, because we have notably validated all the operations needed to run a complete launch campaign,” said Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, in a statement.
The rocket used for testing won’t be taking to the skies, however.
“The Ariane 6 rocket now installed on the launch pad is not intended for flight — the solid rocket boosters are inert — but it is almost identical to a flight model for purposes of testing,” an ESA statement read.
It was originally planned to begin flights in 2020 but has been hit by a series of delays. The launcher is now, however, entering the final stretches of its test campaign.
The rocket’s upper stage performed a came through a hot fire test at the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) facilities in Lampoldshausen, Germany, on Sept. 1.
Next up, a test scheduled for Oct. 3 will see the rocket’s Vulcain 2.1 engine fire for 470 seconds.
If all goes well, Europe hopes to announce the date for the Ariane 6 debut flight by the end of October.