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LAUNCH PAD
New chief urges Ariane 5 modification for big satellites
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) June 04, 2013


European cargo freighter separates from rocket
KOUROU, Guyana, June 05, 2013 (AFP) - Europe's heaviest-ever cargo carrier to the International Space Station successfully separated from its rocket launcher an hour after liftoff on Wednesday to start a 10-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Albert Einstein was rocketed into space from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on an Ariane 5 launcher at 6:52:11 pm local time (21:52:11 GMT). It separated as planned on reaching an altitude of 260 kilometres (160 miles). "ATV Albert Einstein has separated from our launcher," Stephane Israel, chief executive of satellite launch firm Arianespace announced at the control centre in Kourou. The ATV-4 is ferrying a record cargo of 6.6 tonnes to the ISS -- food, fuel, water, oxygen, science experiments and special treats for the orbiting crew. The robot freighter must now deploy its four energy-generating solar panels to start its autonomous navigation, guided by starlight, to the space station. It is set to dock with the ISS on June 15 at an altitude of 400 kilometres (250 miles) above the planet -- at a speed of some 28,000 kilometres (18,000 miles) per hour. At nearly 20.2 tonnes, the fourth and penultimate cargo delivery of the European Space Agency (ESA) to the ISS was the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by an Ariane rocket. The unmanned vessel is the size of a double-decker bus -- 10 metres (33 feet) long and 4.5 metres (15 feet) in diameter. One of its key functions will be to boost the ISS, constantly falling towards Earth due to atmospheric resistance, back into a higher orbit. It can also push the ISS out of the way of oncoming space debris. After completing its mission, the ATV-4 will undock from the ISS in October filled with about six tonnes of garbage and human waste, and burn up over the Pacific.

The new head of European satellite launch firm Arianespace on Tuesday called for a fast-track modification of the Ariane 5 launcher to help it place larger satellites into orbit.

Stephane Israel, who took over as Arianespace's chairman and chief executive from Jean-Yves Le Gall in April, said in an interview with AFP that he considered the plan one of his "two main priorities."

Just last November, ministers of the European Space Agency (ESA) agreed after tough debate to fund a new launcher called Ariane 5 ME, and work towards a successor rocket, Ariane 6, whose maiden flight would be in 2021 or 2022.

But Israel said he also wanted a "fast-track adaptation" of the existing Ariane 5 ECA, "which would be available in less than two years." He described it as a "quick win."

It would slightly increase payload volume, enabling the rocket to handle larger electric-propelled satellites, one of the most promising areas of the satellite-launch market.

"Our analysis is that satellites are going to be more voluminous, so we need to gain a bit of space under the fairing," or nose-cone, he said in an interview with AFP.

The proposed "Ariane 5 ECA Adaptation" would not affect plans for the Ariane 5 ME and Ariane 6, he said.

"The cost would be very limited, in the region of several dozen million euros" (dollars), he said.

Arianespace markets the services of Ariane, the Russian-made medium-range Soyuz and the lightweight Vega at ESA's base at Kourou, French Guiana.

The ministerial decision in Naples last November was a compromise between leading ESA members France and Germany, and came at a time of tightening budget constraints.

France had been pushing for a smaller, sleeker Ariane 6, able to deal with one or multiple payloads up to about six tonnes, to meet an expected trend towards smaller satellites. It would require investment of about four billion euros ($5.2 billion).

Industrialists preferred a German-backed option, an Ariane 5 ME (for "Midlife Evolution"), able to carry two large satellites each weighing five to six tonnes, and using a new engine, the Vinci, that can reignite in order to drop off payloads in different orbits. It would be ready by 2017 at a putative cost of two billion euros ($2.6 billion).

In the end, engineers will push ahead with the ME but try to ensure that its technology is compatible with the Ariane 6.

At the same time, ESA will carry out a review this year of the fast-changing market for satellite launches.

In other comments, Israel said his other big plan was to speed up launch preparation time at Kourou, so that a typically three-week gap between operations was reduced to two weeks.

"Obviously, it all has to be talked through with all of Arianespace's partners and shareholders," he cautioned.

An Ariane 5 ES is due to lift off from Kourou late Wednesday bearing the fourth of ESA's five cargo vehicles for resupplying the International Space Station.

Weighing 20.2 tonnes, it will be the biggest payload hoisted into space by Europe.

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LAUNCH PAD
Ariane poised to launch first 20 ton payload into orbit
Paris (AFP) Jun 03, 2013
Nearly 40 years ago, European countries worried by US and Soviet dominance of space gave the green light to the first Ariane rocket, a wee launcher capable of hoisting a satellite payload of just 1.8 tonnes - the equivalent mass of two small cars. On Wednesday, the fifth and mightiest generation of Arianes is set to take a whopping 20.2 tonnes into orbit, a cargo craft the size of a doubl ... read more


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