How virtual reality is helping Ariane 6 reach its first launch goal in late 2022

This is another example of the relevance of technologies derived from video games for use in industry, aviation and space. In this case, we are talking about a powerful Unreal Engine, developed by the American studio Epic Games, which became famous worldwide for its game Fortnite. “We use this mechanism, which offers much more advanced capabilities than classic tools automated design used in industry. We only deal with software, not hardware. explains La Tribune Hugo Falgarone, CEO of startup SkyReal.

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This engineer, who has a 17-year career in innovation and production at Airbus, created SkyReal in Paris in 2018, with the following belief: “There is data, there is technology, all that remains is to put it into practice thanks to virtual reality, which makes it possible to predict many things at the design and testing stages.” A company of about fifteen employees ensures that it generates “several million euros turnover” with several big names in aeronautics and astronautics (Airbus, ATR, Safra, Stelia), heavy industry (Plastic Omnium, General Electric, Framatom, Naval Group) or engineering schools such as “Isa Toulouse”.

ArianeGroup is also one of the main customers in the development program of Ariane 6, the future European launcher, which is currently being completed:

“We have been working with them since 2019 to gradually integrate three uses: facilitating collective decision-making on strategic issues involving dozens of people; support and accelerate the testing and launch of B-Line in Hailan, Gironde, and provide training for future operators of the Kourou Fire Center in French Guiana »synthesizes Hugo Falgarone.

Digital twin in a suitcase

Specifically, the solution, available in Saint-Medar-en-Jal, as well as on various ArianeGroup sites in mainland France, Guyana and Germany, fits in a suitcase and requires a Hololens laptop and virtual reality headset. All this allows you to collaborate remotely, moving in the digital twin, a real single-scale virtual model. The result is stunning: you are free to move in a very precise and detailed reproduction of the various stages of the launcher and its completely new launch site with a mobile portal installed at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou.

“This allows us to optimize processes and therefore costs. We work faster and more efficiently on verification cycles, on the development of specific tools and on the distance learning of future operators who will need to work on the site. Chicken. With this tool, they confirm the infrastructure and machines that they will use in real life in a few months. “ says Christoph Reig, virtual reality development manager at ArianeGroup, based in Saint-Medar-en-Jal.

This is not the first virtual reality attempt for a joint venture that developed the Icar project in 2010 with Bordeaux-based Immersion. This is a dive room that is now being rented out in favor of SkyReal. “The great advantage of SkyReal is that all you need is a computer and a VR headset to make it easier to browse the design and communicate between the various ArianeGroup sites and even our partners.” adds Christoph Reig, who is eventually deploying new features with SkyReal teams in an environment that is still very limited to cybersecurity.

Goal: the end of 2022

This saving of time from virtual reality is especially valuable, as the long-awaited first launch of Ariane 6 is yet to take place in about six months from the Kuru space base. There is no exact date, but the official goal is to make the first launch by the end of the year, even if uncertainty remains. To meet deadlines, VR has also accelerated the commissioning of the B-Line for the Booster line or the Bordeaux Line.

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ArianeGroup B-Line

Robot for screwing B-Line nozzles in Hylan, Gironde (credits: ArianeGroup).

Located in Hailan, this conveyor for injectors, which will be equipped with future side engines of the first flight and subsequent, consists of two giant autonomous robots. One of the few meters tall is engaged in mechanical screwing operations, the other, slightly smaller, manages the gluing operations in a clean room with the experience of a human gluer. “These works allow us to reduce the assembly time of the nozzle by three or four, which will allow us to produce almost one per week at cruising speed from 2023 or 2024.”emphasizes Jann Talamoni, Ariane 6. “solid engine” program manager before transporting to Kuru.

Knowing that one launcher requires two to four nozzles and that the flight program provides for eleven launches per year. Thanks to a recent contract from Amazon for the Kuiper constellation, the Ariane 6 already has a well-completed order book of 29 launches, which should take at least four years. “This reflects the success of European solutions to guarantee sovereign access to space with a launcher that can be described as a Swiss Army knife and can count on both institutional support and its commercial results, despite very strong competition. “Congratulates Gilles Fonblanc, Secretary General of ArianeGroup.

“SpaceCase” on board

At this stage, the confidence that the first flight of the Ariane 6 will carry over the neo-Aquitaine project among eleven passengers, presented by ESA, the European Space Agency, a few weeks ago. This is the project “SpaceCase SC-X01”, a demonstration device for re-entry into the atmosphere, which has the shape of a capsule with a diameter of 60 cm, height 30 cm and weighing about 40 kilograms.

ArianeGroup space case

The “SpaceCase SC-01” capsule, which will be on board the first flight of Ariane 6, is still scheduled for the end of 2022 (credits: ArianeGroup).

“The purpose of the capsule is to prepare a commercial service that offers customers the opportunity to test various technologies in flight (materials, equipment, sensors, etc.) in a space environment such as atmospheric re-entry, as well as a new generation. thermal protection developed by ArianeGroup »explains the Way4Space think tank and incubator, set up last year in New Aquitaine and supporting the SpaceCase project.

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