Once filled, this famous skirt will be shipped to the Guiana spaceport. It is one of the elements to be assembled for the first launch of Ariane 6, the new rocket in the European range. It is expected to take off before the end of the year, although no date has yet been confirmed. Suffice to say that in the workshops and offices of Issac, we entered straight into the concrete. The same goes for Haillan, a handful of kilometers away. In one of the buildings of the complex, huge Japanese robots perform elegant arabesques. The strongest adjusts the screwed parts of the nozzles, his little brother the glued parts.
Robots repeat relentlessly
The nozzles? Every time they take off, the cameras stare at them in the final seconds of the countdown, waiting for the hellfire to erupt. “Those are the exhausts of the boosters, in a way. They channel combustion gases at 3,300°C, three times the temperature of molten lava. The material is ten centimeters thick. On its other side, it must not heat up to more than fifty degrees”. The man who details this miracle is called Yann Talamoni. He is responsible for Ariane 6’s “solid propulsion” programs. If you don’t stop him – and why stop him? – he is able to give you two hours of conference on this technological jewel without taking a breath. The passion never dries up.
The material is proven. Nozzles are already fitted to Ariane 5 boosters. On the other hand, the methods are out of date. Where manual procedures predominated – and still are – on Ariane 5, they will be completely automated in the near future on Ariane 6. The robots assemble, screw, bolt, glue and fetch the necessary tools themselves. There remains an operator in the “gluing” workshop. His skill is inimitable. The man “feels” the texture of the glue. For artificial intelligence, it is still a glue, precisely.
We await the verdict of the tests
In this new building, the whole industrial logic of the program decided by Europe at the end of 2014 is deployed: the simplification and robotization of tasks, saving time and savings. Once past the ramp-up phase, ie the first fifteen launches, ArianeGroup should be able to “release” up to eleven launchers per year. The company will have no respite thanks to its wealth problems: a month ago, its subsidiary Arianespace landed a heavyweight contract, the launch and orbiting of Amazon’s Kuiper satellite constellation. That is 18 flights stretched over three years. “We have eleven shots planned with our other customers, or 29 in total. Not long ago, our critics promised us four shots per year,” rejoices Gilles Fonblanc, the head of ArianeGroup’s Aquitaine establishments.
The future is promising, but the present is still subject to uncertainties. To free itself from Earth’s gravity, the first Ariane 6 awaits the test batteries on the menu for the next few months. Their theater will be Kourou, where the correct transmission of data between the ground and the rocket must be verified down to the smallest detail. And Lampoldshausen, Germany, where the operation of the upper stage and its engine will be tested. Soon the verdict.