A new timelapse video shows the rocket gantry for Europe's newest booster, the Ariane 6, take its first test drive during a simulation of prelaunch rollout activities for future missions.
Workers in orange and yellow shirts swirl around the 295-foot (90-meter) lattice structure as it departs moved for the first time at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Near video's end, the house-shaped gantry sidles up to its launch pad and then moves over it, just like it would do for a real launch.
The Ariane 6 is a new heavy-lift rocket designed to haul payloads of up to 35,274 lbs. (16,000 kilograms) into orbit. The Arianespace-built booster will stand over 197 feet (60 meters) tall and weight nearly 992 tons (900 metric tons) when fully fueled and loaded.
The rocket's mobile gantry will allow workers to access the Ariane 6 during vehicle integration on the launchpad, the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement accompanying the video's release on July 25. The gantry weighs about 9,039 tons (8,200 metric tons) — about 1,000 metric tons more than the Eiffel Tower — resembles a massive barn and will protect the Ariane 6 rocket until about five hours before the launch.
"Preparation is everything, but the actual move is automated and quite simple," said Jean-Michel Rizzi, ESA's Ariane 6 launch base project manager, in the statement. "You choose to move the gantry forward or backwards, and then press the start button."
The gantry must travel 463 feet (141 m) — from its support building to the launch pad — in about 22 minutes along a rail line. The first 3 feet (1 m) is done at a crawling speed of 3 feet per second. Then the gantry hits its cruising speed of nearly 25 feet (8 m) per minute for most of its journey, before gradually decelerating during the last 30 feet (9 m) before the pad.
The test will be repeated several more times during the next few weeks, ESA added. Engineers on site will monitor the rollout speed, how much electrical power is used, and how well the gantry's wheels move along the track using 128 motors.
Ariane 6 is scheduled to make its first launch in 2020, ESA officials have said.
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