The Ariane 6 rocket has been the subject of numerous studies that have evaluated NGL versions that either only have solid rocket motors or only liquid fuel engines. According to Bonacina, for Ariane 6, the two year studies will determine, “what shape and configuration it will have and what kind of money will be needed over what timeframe”. Neither Ariane 5ME nor Ariane 6 will launch astronauts.
A decision on Ariane 6 was supposed to take place in 2012, but disagreement between France and Germany, the largest ESA budget contributors, saw a compromise. France was in favor of Ariane 6, while Germany wanted Ariane 5ME to go ahead.
“It was a heavy compromise between Germany and France. They all had their interesting points of view and a solution has been found,” Bonacina said. “The good thing is that Ariane 6 has started and Ariane 5ME continues in parallel.”
In April of this year, ESA expects to hit two rocket milestones. They include second launch of its latest rocket, Vega, which uses solid rocket motors for its first, second and upper stages. The Vega rocket will launch the Earth observation satellite, Proba-V. The V in Proba-V stands for vegetation because the satellite will monitor the Earth’s plant life. [Europe’s Vega Rocket 1st Launch (Photos)]
Then in mid- or late April, the latest version of the Ariane 5—the Ariane 5 ES—is due make its next launch. The Ariane 5 ES has an upper stage whose engine can reignite. This allows it to launch ESA’s robotic Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ships.
Europe’s ATV spacecraft deliver supplies to the International Space Station and propellant to raise the station’s orbit when needed. The ATV to be launched in April, called Albert Einstein, will be the fourth ESA’s five planned ATV missions to the space station.
Europe’s other launches in the second half of 2013 include satellites for the European Union’s space-based navigation system, Galileo. The Galileo satellites will be launched by a Russian Soyuz 2 rocket from the Soyuz launch site in French Guiana.
Also launched in the latter half of 2013 by Soyuz rockets will be ESA’s Gaia mission and the Sentinel-1A satellite. The Gaia spacecraft will operate beyond the Moon, over 600,000 miles (965,606 kilometers) from Earth, and its goal is to create the largest and most precise three-dimensional map of the galaxy.
The Sentinel-1A is a polar orbit satellite that uses synthetic aperture radar. It is the first dedicated satellite for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security constellation, a joint venture between ESA and the European Union. A constellation of two satellites, GMES’ Sentinel-1B is expected to launch in 2015.
An Ariane 5 will also launch Alphasat this year. This high bandwidth telecommunications satellite will provide commercial services and test various communications technologies including lasers.
Europe’s astronauts and robot arm
In May, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will launch ESA’s Italian born astronaut Luca Parmitano from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Parmitano is launching on a six-month mission to the International Space Station and is slated to return to Earth in November.
Parmitano was selected to join ESA’s astronaut corps in May 2009 as one of six candidates. The five others hailed from France, Germany, Italy, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Of those, Parmitano is the first bound for the space station.