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by Staff Writers
Kourou, French Guiana (ESA) Aug 03, 2012
With 50 successful launches in a row, Ariane 5 clearly sets the standard in space transportation for all customers, whether national or international agencies, governments or private industry. Above all, Ariane 5 guarantees independent access to space for Europe, and is in fact one of the most eloquent examples of the ongoing construction of Europe.
Birth of a giant It was back in 1977, even before the first launch of Ariane 1, that the idea emerged for a heavy-lift version of the European launcher.
The concept was submitted to French space agency CNES in 1979, with the aim of developing a launcher that could carry 5,500 kg into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), to keep pace with the trend towards larger and larger satellites.
In 1985, at the instigation of France, represented by Hubert Curien, the ministerial conference in Rome approved the development of a version with a payload capacity of 6,800 kg. The program was confirmed two years later at the ESA conference in The Hague, and led to a first Ariane 5 launch in 1996.
In the meantime, however, satellites continued to grow, and in 1999 Europe's space ministers, meeting at a conference in Brussels, approved the development of Ariane 5 ECA, capable of placing 9,500 kg into GTO. This version is now the flagship launch vehicle for Arianespace, which has just carried out the 50th successful Ariane 5 launch in a row.
A technological and industrial success For more than 25 years the Ariane 5 program has been a powerful lever of technological development in Europe. Now built under the responsibility of prime contractor Astrium, Ariane 5 incorporates state-of-the-art technologies and systems.
Safran's Space Engines division in Vernon, west of Paris, and partners throughout Europe have risen to the daunting challenge of designing, developing and building a reliable high-pressure cryogenic rocket propulsion systems. The Safran-led team includes Astrium in Germany, Avio in Italy and Volvo in Sweden, to name just a few.
At Les Mureaux, near Paris, Astrium has teamed up with Air Liquide to create an assembly line for the cryogenic propellant tanks, stretching 5 meters in diameter. They are immediately integrated to form the main stage, which is then shipped via boat to the launch site in French Guiana.
Manufacture of the solid boosters starts in Augsburg, Germany at MT Aerospace, which makes the metallic cylindrical sections for these stages. Production continues at Avio in Italy, then shifts to French Guiana, where a plant produces the solid propellant for the solid rocket motors. The composite nozzle made in Bordeaux is then fitted to these motors, with equipment from Sabca of Belgium.
The fairings for the launcher are produced by Ruag Space in Zurich, Switzerland. Stretching up to 17 meters tall, these are now the largest fairings on the market, designed to house today's largest satellites as well as the ATV cargo vessel for the International Space Station.
The launch facilities at the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana have also evolved over time to welcome this exceptional launcher and meet growing demand.
These facilities are designed to support several launch preparation campaigns at the same time, since they include two mobile launch tables and several satellite preparation buildings, operated in particular by the company Clemessy. These buildings are considered the most modern in the world, and are one of Arianespace's main competitive advantages.
A business success admired worldwide Arianespace has been the world's leading launch services company for over 30 years, orbiting more than half of all commercial satellites.
This success in the commercial market has fostered the conditions needed to support a high launch rate, thus guaranteeing the long-term viability of the European launcher industry, and independent access to space for Europe.
In less than ten years, 50 Ariane 5 launchers have successfully orbited 90 main payloads (80 into geostationary transfer orbit, 10 into low Earth orbit) and ten auxiliary payloads, with a cumulated weight exceeding 400 tons.
While three-fourths of these satellites are for telecommunications services, Ariane 5 is designed to handle a complete range of launch missions, and it has also orbited a number of weather, defense and scientific satellites.
In addition, Ariane 5 has already carried out three launches of the 20-ton ATV, which ferries supplies to the International Space Station. Every year, Arianespace signs more than half of all satellite launch contracts in the open international market.
Arianespace currently has a backlog of launch orders from 28 customers, equal to three years of business. For Ariane 5, this translates into a total of 19 launches, already scheduled in the coming years, ensuring continued access to space for Europe, and an enviable workload for its space industry.
Launch Pad at Space-Travel.com
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