the last stretch before the start

Once filled, this famous rock is shipped to the Guiana Cosmodrome. It is one of the elements being assembled for the first launch of Ariane 6, the new European range rocket. It is expected to take off before the end of the year, although no date has been confirmed yet. Suffice it to say that in the Issac workshops and offices we went straight into the concrete. The same applies to Haillan, a few kilometers away. In one of the complex’s buildings, giant Japanese robots perform elegant arabesques. The strongest adjusts the screwed parts of the nozzles, his little brother the glued parts.

The apron of one of the boosters of the first flight of the Ariane 6, which will soon be equipped with its cabling in the Haillan factory.


Robots repeat relentlessly

The nozzles? Every time they take off, the cameras stare at them in the final seconds of the countdown, waiting for hellfire to erupt. “These are, so to speak, the exhaust gases from the boosters. They conduct combustion gases at 3,300°C, three times hotter than molten lava. The material is ten centimeters thick. On the other hand, it must not heat up to more than fifty degrees.” The man who describes this miracle is called Yann Talamoni. He is responsible for the solid propulsion programs for Ariane 6. 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 has proven itself. The Ariane 5 boosters are already equipped with nozzles, but the methods are outdated. Where manual processes predominated and still exist on Ariane 5, they will be fully automated on Ariane 6 in the near future. The robots assemble, screw, bolt, glue and fetch the necessary tools themselves. One operator remains in the “gluing” workshop. His skill is inimitable. The man “feels” the texture of the glue. It’s still glue for artificial intelligence, right.

We await the verdict of the tests

All the industrial logic of the program adopted by Europe at the end of 2014 is implemented in this new building: the simplification and robotization of tasks, saving time and savings. After the ramp-up phase, ie the first 15 launches, the ArianeGroup should be able to “deliver” up to eleven launch vehicles per year. The company will have no rest thanks to its fortune problems: A month ago, its subsidiary Arianespace received a heavyweight order, the launch and orbit of the Kuiper satellite constellation from Amazon. That’s 18 flights over three years. “We planned 11 shots with our other clients, for a total of 29. Not long ago, our critics promised us four shots a year,” says Gilles Fonblanc, head of ArianeGroup’s offices in Aquitaine.

One of the giant

One of the giant “B-Line” robots at the Haillan plant where the nozzles are assembled.


The future is promising, but the present is still fraught with uncertainty. In order to overcome the earth’s gravity, the first Ariane 6 will be waiting for the test batteries on the menu in the next few months. Your setting will be Kourou, where correct data transmission 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 is being tested. Judgment soon.

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