Ariane 5 celebrates its 100 tonightth launch of Kourou, after a career marked by record reliability. But against SpaceX, the launcher is no longer competitive. Ariane 6, scheduled for 2020, is more necessary than ever.
Ariane 5, hundredth! Unless there is a last minute postponement, the European heavy launcher will take off from Kourou this evening for the hundredth launch in its history. Ariane 5 is to put into orbit two telecommunications satellites, Horizons 3e (Intelsat), and Azerspace / Intelsat 38, for a total mass of nearly eleven tonnes. The mission should last 42 minutes and 17 seconds exactly, with a take-off scheduled from 11:53 p.m., Paris time. With this somewhat special launch, the launcher will come a little closer to the 116 launches carried out by its predecessor Ariane 4. A figure that Ariane 5 should approach, or even exceed by its retirement, scheduled for 2023.
22 years after its first flight, the heavy launcher marketed by Arianespace is already showing a remarkable career. With 205 satellites put into orbit, for a total mass of 782 tonnes, it has enabled Arianespace to become the world leader in commercial satellite launches in the world. A feat, when we know that the rocket was originally calibrated for a very different mission: Ariane 5 was to perform manned flight missions, taking on board the European space shuttle Hermès. The project faced with technical and financial difficulties and the crash of the American shuttle Challenger in 1986, had finally been abandoned.
Space Europe was therefore left with an oversized launcher project for trade missions. But from an obstacle, manufacturers and space agencies have made an advantage: since the new launcher could carry nearly 10 tons in geostationary orbit (36,000 km), Ariane 5 has been adapted to be able to launch two satellites at the same time, one large in the high position, and a small in the low position of the cuff. “The initial objective, which I found in old files, was to make four shots per year: two with manned flights, and two with satellites,” says Alain Charmeau, boss of Ariane Group, project manager of ‘Ariane 5 and Ariane 6. This launcher, designed for other missions, has survived, and has even established itself as the world leader in commercial launches. It’s an incredible adventure. ”