European Rocket Ariane 5 Departs On Its Last Flight From French Guiana

European Rocket Ariane 5 Departs On Its Last Flight From French Guiana

PARIS — An Ariane 5 rocket, Europe’s workhorse, took off for the last time on Wednesday with its farewell flight after 27 years of launches and at a difficult time for European space efforts. Faced with growing global competition, the continent has unexpectedly found itself without a way to launch heavy missions into space independently due to delays in the next-generation Ariane 6 and Russia withdrawing its rockets. The 117th and final flight of the Ariane 5 rocket took place on Wednesday from the European spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana. The launch had been postponed twice. It was originally scheduled for June 16, but was called off due to problems with the pyrotechnic lines in the rocket booster, which have since been replaced. The flight Wednesday night went off without a hitch, watched by hundreds of onlookers, including former French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, and greeted with applause. Marie-Anne Clair, director of the Guiana Space Center, told AFP the Ariane 5’s final flight was “charged with emotion” for the teams in Kourou, where rocket launches marked life for nearly three decades. The final payload on the Ariane 5 is a French military communications satellite and a German communications satellite. Although it would become a reliable rocket, Ariane 5 got off to a rocky start. Its maiden flight exploded moments after liftoff in 1996. Its only other such failure came in 2002. A reputation for reliability Ariane 5 earned such a reputation for reliability that NASA chose it to launch the 10 billion-year James Webb Space Telescope. dollars in late 2021. The rocket’s penultimate launch was in April, with the European Space Agency’s Juice spacecraft on its way to discover whether Jupiter’s icy moons can harbor extraterrestrial life. Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s head of human and robotic exploration, said that in commercial terms Ariane 5 had been “the spearhead of Europe’s space activities.” The rocket could carry a much larger payload than its Ariane 4 predecessor, giving Europe a competitive advantage and allowing the continent to establish itself in the communications satellite market. While waiting for the Ariane 6, which was initially scheduled to launch in 2020, Europe was relying on Russia’s Soyuz rockets to carry heavy-lift missions into space. But Russia withdrew space cooperation with Europe in response to sanctions imposed over Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The number of launches from Kourou fell from 15 in 2021 to six last year. Another blow came in December, when the first commercial flight of the next-generation Vega C light launcher failed. Last week, another problem was detected in the Vega C’s engine, which will probably delay its return in the future. Spotlight on new rocket The launch market has been increasingly dominated by billionaire Elon Musk’s US firm SpaceX, whose rockets now take off once a week. Lacking other options, the European Space Agency was forced to turn to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for the successful launch of its Euclid space telescope on Saturday. The agency will also use a SpaceX rocket to launch the EarthCARE observation mission satellites. It is unclear how the European Space Agency will launch the next round of satellites for the European Union’s Galileo global navigation system. At the Paris Air Show earlier this month, ESA chief Josef Aschbacher acknowledged that these are “difficult times,” adding that everyone was “working hard” to prepare Ariane 6 and Vega-C. The Ariane 6 was unveiled at a launch pad in Kourou earlier this month ahead of a test-firing of its Vulcain 2.1 rocket engine. Because the new rocket requires less personnel and maintenance, 190 of the 1,600 jobs at the Kourou spaceport will be cut.
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