New Ariane launcher all set for November liftoff

by the European Space Agency

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The launch date of 28 November has been announced for Europe’s new 10-tonne launcher. Preparations are well underway at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana where a series of simulated countdowns have been successfully carried out.

The new Ariane 5, dubbed Ariane 10 tonnes, consists of a new cryogenic upper stage powered by the tried and trusted HM-7B engine used on the Ariane-4 launcher. To date Ariane 4 has made more than 100 trouble-free flights, earning it the nickname of the Ariane workhorse. Developed by ESA with the support of its Member States, Ariane 10 tonnes confirms the growth potential built into the original design of the Ariane 5 launcher. For the first time, Europe will now be able to place into geostationary orbit a payload weighing more than 10 tonnes. Ariane 10 tonnes is also good news for potential customers as they will be able to launch heavier satellites, and/or share a launch with another customer and pay less to orbit each kilogramme.

The reason being that despite its increased size Ariane 10 tonnes costs only slightly more to produce but is more flexible than previous Ariane launchers and can handle dual launches of large satellites thanks to its resized fairing. In an increasingly aggressive and competitive market, Ariane 10 tonnes is expected to soon replace Ariane 4 as the Ariane workhorse.

New cryogenic arms will be used to fill Ariane 5's ESC-A upper stage

Throughout the past year several developments have been taking place at Europe’s spaceport to accommodate the new launcher. As its new longer upper stage makes it taller than the basic Ariane-5, the main door of the Ariane 5 final assembly building has been raised by more than 4 metres. The launch tower has also been made bigger so that the propellant lines can reach the new upper stage to allow fuelling.

Several full dress rehearsals have taken place, the first in mid-October and the last on 5 November. These entailed taking the launcher to the launch zone and filling the cryogenic central core and the new ESC-A cryogenic upper stage with propellant so that simulated countdowns could be carried out. One of these proceeded through to ignition of the Vulcain 2 main engine and startup for 14 seconds. Vulcain 2 is an increased thrust version of the main basic Ariane-5 engine.

These successful simulations have enabled the launch team to validate the final preparation and countdown procedures and to set the date of 28 November for the first liftoff of Europe’s new Ariane launcher.