Alas, all good things must come to an end. In 2020, Arianespace and the ESA signed contracts for the rocket’s last eight launches before the Ariane 6 (a heavier two-stage launcher) would succeed it. The Ariane 5‘s final flight (VA261) lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport at 06:00 PM EST (03:00 PM PST) on July 5th, 2023, and placed two payloads into their planned geostationary transfer orbits (GTO) about 33 minutes later. On the downside, this means that the ESA is effectively out of launch vehicles until the Ariane 6 makes its debut next year.
A prototype of ESA’s new heavy lift rocket is now fully assembled and sitting on the launchpad at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. But according to officials at a briefing last week, the space agency and the rocket’s prime contractor, ArianeGroup, have decided to delay the first flight of the Ariane 6 to the fourth quarter of 2023 after several issues were brought to the fore in an external review.
Last month, an Ariane 5 rocket carried the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) safely to space, the latest of 112 total launches for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) primary workhorse rocket. With a 95.5% success rate, the Ariane 5 has been a reliable ride to space for decades, but its story is about to come to an end. ESA is no longer building new Ariane 5 vehicles, instead developing its next-generation rocket, the Ariane 6, which is intended to provide cheaper access to space. This week, the first completed core stage of a new Ariane 6 rocket arrived at the spaceport outside Korou in French Guiana for testing.
Finally, it’s starting to get real for the James Webb Space Telescope. Engineers are now preparing the long-awaited landmark telescope for transport to its launch site at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Officials from NASA and ESA this acknowledged the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope will very likely be delayed from the end of October to at least mid-November, 2021. As we reported last month, the usually reliable Ariane 5 has experienced problems on two previous launches where unexpected vehicle accelerations occurred when the fairing separated from the rocket. The fairing is the nose cone used to protect a spacecraft payload during launch and acceleration through Earth’s atmosphere.
“Indeed, there was an anomaly which has been mentioned recently in the media,” said Daniel de Chambure, acting head of Ariane 5 adaptations, during a media briefing on JWST. “The origin of the problem has been found; corrective actions have been taken.”
Imagine clinging on to the side of a rocket, somehow able to hang on despite the high speeds and diminishing oxygen. Looking down, this is what you’ll see — the view in the video above. This incredible sequence shows Sentinel-1a during its initial climb to orbit last week and, if you wait long enough, you can even see the separation of the third stage.
“Arianespace’s successful Soyuz Flight VS07 — which deployed Sentinel-1A to Sun-synchronous orbit — gave the world a front-row seat in space,” the company stated on YouTube. “Cameras mounted on the Soyuz’ Fregat upper stage captured the spectacular footage … as Sentinel-1A was separated at approximately 700 km [434 miles] above the Earth to commence its life in orbit.”
Sentinel-1a is the first of a series of environmental monitoring satellites overseen by the European Space Agency, a set that promises views of the Earth in high-definition.
Europe scored a major space success with today’s (Feb. 13) flawless maiden launch of the brand new Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The four stage Vega lifted off on the VV01 flight at 5:00 a.m. EST (10:00 GMT, 11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from a new launch pad in South America, conducted a perfectly executed qualification flight and deployed 9 science satellites into Earth orbit.
Vega is a small rocket launcher designed to loft science and Earth observation satellites.
The payload consists of two Italian satellites – ASI’s LARES laser relativity satellite and the University of Bologna’s ALMASat-1 – as well as seven picosatellites provided by European universities: e-St@r (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).
Three of these cubesats were the first ever satellites to be built by Poland, Hungary and Romania. They were constructed by University students who were given a once in a lifetime opportunity by ESA to get practical experience and launch their satellites for free since this was Vega’s first flight.
The 30 meter tall Vega has been been under development for 9 years by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), French Space Agency (CNES). Seven Member States contributed to the program including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland as well as industry.
ESA can now boast a family of three booster rockets that can service the full range of satellites from small to medium to heavy weight at their rapidly expanding South American Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center.
Vega joins Europe’s stable of launchers including the venerable Ariane V heavy lifter rocket family and the newly inaugurated medium class Russian built Soyuz booster and provides ESA with an enormous commercial leap in the satellite launching arena.
“In a little more than three months, Europe has increased the number of launchers it operates from one to three, widening significantly the range of launch services offered by the European operator Arianespace. There is not anymore one single European satellite which cannot be launched by a European launcher service,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.
“It is a great day for ESA, its Member States, in particularly Italy where Vega was born, for European industry and for Arianespace.”
Dordain noted that an additional 200 workers have been hired in Guiana to meet the needs of Europe’s burgeoning space programs. Whereas budget cutbacks are forcing NASA and its contractors to lay off tens of thousands of people as a result of fallout from the global economic recession.
ESA has already signed commercial contracts for future Vega launches and 5 more Vega rockets are already in production.
Vega’s light launch capacity accommodates a wide range of satellites – from 300 kg to 2500 kg – into a wide variety of orbits, from equatorial to Sun-synchronous.
“Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s Director of Launchers.