The European Ariane 5 rocket will make its final launch this evening [Updated] – Ars Technica

Zoom in / Ariane 5 has been the backbone of the European Space Agency since 1996.


Wednesday updateUnfavorable winds have canceled an attempted launch of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket on Tuesday from European Spaceport in French Guiana.

However, Arianespace said on Wednesday that the outlook for today is marginally better, and so the rocket is being prepared for liftoff at 5:30 PM ET (21:30 UTC). This will be the final launch of the Ariane 5 rocket, which has flown nearly as long as the NASA space shuttle. It will leave Europe with no guarantee of access to space for at least the next year.

original postThe Ariane 5 rocket had a long range, with nearly three decades of service for launching satellites and spacecraft. During that time, the iconic rocket, with a liquid hydrogen-fueled core stage and solid rocket boosters, came to symbolize Europe’s assured access to space.

But now, the road ends for the Ariane 5. And as soon as Tuesday evening, the final Ariane 5 rocket will lift off from Kourou, French Guiana, carrying a military communications satellite and a German communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit. A 90-minute release window opens at 5:30 PM ET (21:30 UTC). will be launch Webcast on ESA TV.

and after that? The European Space Agency faces some tough questions.


The Ariane 5 rocket debuted in June 1996 with a failed launch, and its second launch a year later was also a partial failure. But then, the missile achieved a commendable success record with a total of 116 launch attempts. For most of its history, the rocket has been a true workhorse, launching dozens of commercial satellites into geostationary space and ensuring that European countries can fly their own national security payloads into orbit.

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The rocket also carried a number of important space science missions, including the Rosetta, Herschel, Planck, BepiColombo and JUICE spacecraft. Perhaps the most notable rocket launch was in December 2021, when it lifted NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope into a very precise orbit.

Since Webb did not need to expend any onboard fuel to correct its orbit, NASA was able to double the estimated mission lifetime. The agency’s analysis found Webb had enough propellant on board for 20 years, up from its original estimate of 10 years, said Mike Menzel, a NASA systems engineer.

Looking forward to the future

This is the sweet part of the Ariane 5 story. The bitter part comes as Europe looks to the future. Almost a decade ago, the continent’s space leaders realized that the Ariane 5 wasn’t particularly price-competitive with newer rockets, especially SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster. So they decided to develop the next generation booster, Ariane 6, to be more competitive in terms of price.

This new missile was largely an update of the Ariane 5 missile, including an updated design for the solid rocket booster and its Vulcain main engine. European space officials said the Ariane 6 rocket will be ready for its first flight in 2020.

Unfortunately, as of July 2023, it’s clear that the Ariane 6 rocket won’t fly until next year and probably not until at least summer 2024. Recently, at the Paris Air Show, officials from Arianespace and other European entities refused to provide a new estimated launch date. Much work remains to be done, including additional hot-fire test of the rocket’s upper stage, flight software qualification tests, and assembly of the rocket on the launch pad.

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real world consequences

These delays are not good for the launch industry in Europe. Recall, the continent has developed an Ariane 6 rocket to be able to compete with the Falcon 9. Now, due to constant delays, the European Space Agency has to fly some of its most valuable missions on a SpaceX rocket.

On Saturday, for example, Europe launched its high-value Euclid space telescope on a Falcon 9 rocket because an operational Ariane 6 rocket won’t be available for the mission until at least 2025.

Delays at Ariane 6 also prompted the European Space Agency to approve the launch of its Hera asteroid probe to Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral in 2024. The space agency’s director general, Joseph Ashbacher, said an Earth science satellite called EarthCARE would also have to launch on a rocket. SpaceX Falcon 9 due to problems with the European Vega C rocket.

In some recent comments, Aschbacher acknowledged that Europe has fallen significantly behind SpaceX in launch capabilities.

“SpaceX has undoubtedly changed the paradigm of the player market as we know it,” Written in May. “With the dependable reliability of the Falcon 9 and the captivating vistas of the Starship, SpaceX continues to completely redefine the world’s access to space, pushing the boundaries of possibility as they go. Once successful, the spacecraft will deliver payloads of approximately 100 tons to low-Earth orbit while reducing the cost of Launches by 10 times. The Falcon 9 aims to launch 100 times in 2023. On the other hand, today Europe finds itself in an acute launcher crisis.

So as the last of the Ariane 5 takes off, Europe sails through uncertain seas until Ariane 6 can finally take off.

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