Giant sunset: the last flight of the Ariane V.

Giant sunset: the last flight of the Ariane V.

After more than 25 years of space launches, the most important transmission in European space has finally been retired. At midnight on July 5, the Ariane 5 took off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana carrying two communications satellites: the German Heinrich-Hertz satellite and the French SYRACUSE 4B, with a total payload of 7680 kg.

Mission designation VA261, f The 117th launch of Ariane V and also the last. This carrier, which was first launched in 1996, has built up a large part of the European space in recent years, thanks to its high reliability and quality of performance.

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A symbolic example of this was the launch of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, which was also the most important launch in the almost thirty-year history of this vector. The precision with which Ariane V put James Webb into orbit on Christmas Day 2021 allowed this telescope to maintain its thrust and potentially extend its operating life. Over the years, Ariane V has shot several significant loads, of which James Webb has been the main one.

Important shipment VA261

Ariane V’s latest mission was to bring the German Space Agency’s H2SAT satellite, SYRACUSE 4B of the French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA), into geostationary orbit. The first is a satellite testing new communications technologies from geostationary orbit, which is why it is named after German physicist Heinrich Hertz, who in the 19th century laid the foundations for many aspects critical to understanding electromagnetism.

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The satellite will be used by universities, companies and research centers to test new forms of communications and data transmission from the Geo orbit, such as direct communication with mobile devices.

On the other hand, SYRACUSE 4B is the second of a pair of military communications satellites, which replace the pair of SYRACUSE 3 (A and B) launched in 2005 and 2006. This new satellite will allow military communications, such as drone link and convoys soldiers in critical situations.

Important story

The first launch of Ariane V will forever go down in history as one of the costliest software blunders ever, because it was, in fact, a failure. About 40 seconds after departure, the carrier was blown up, losing control of its position due to a software problem. A shipment of four satellites worth about 300 million euros was lost.

This missile has since proven to be one of the most reliable on the market. With 112 hits in 117 flightswhich equals 95.7%. Percentage was evaluated above all on the basis of its long history, which led to the failure of the carrier mainly in its early years.

Precisely for these reasons (as well as reasons for exclusivity, being the only heavy European carrier), the Ariane V was chosen to launch some of the most important missions on the Old Continent. The first was certainly the Rosetta mission, launched in 2004 toward comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Another important payload was the ATV cargo capsule, which has been launched with the Ariane V five times to the International Space Station, carrying supplies and experiments. The ATV was one of the largest cargo bays ever launched on the station, and the ESM Orion capsule service module was also derived from it.

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Ariane V has also launched several satellites of the Galileo constellation, as well as the XMM-Newton space telescopes, Herschel and the Planck telescope. One of the last major payloads was the JUICE probe, the most complex and important science mission ever launched to Jupiter’s moons to date.

Cut-out view of the ATV inside Ariane V.

And now?

Ariana V’s retirement may come at the worst possible moment for the European space. In 2023, only two launches have been made by European entities or companies, both of which are Ariane V launches. For comparison, India launched 4, Russia 10, USA 54, China 27.

Ariane V’s successor, Ariane 6, promises to be a worthy successor to its predecessor, on paper at least. Arianespace and ESA, like all project partners, actually worked on the vector’s strengths: reliability, large payload size, and mass to be put into orbit. The architecture will remain the same, with the Vulcain 2 engine powering the first stage and two (or four) solid-state boosters. The four-seat booster version of the Ariane V was never built. However, the main problem for the next heavy European carrier remains delays. currently The first flight is scheduled for the first half of 2024.

This leaves all of Europe, which is also facing problems due to the loss of cooperation with Russia and technical problems with the Vega-C, without orbital launchers at least until the beginning of 2024.

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