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High 5! Let’s take a closer look at Ariane 5’s exceptional track record
Ariane 5 was officially inaugurated in 1987, when the European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial council approved the development of Ariane 4’s successor. This was to be a more powerful and economically viable launch vehicle, based on a different architecture capable of an extended range of missions.
Ariane 5 versions: Ariane 5 G, Ariane 5 ES, Ariane 5 ECA
Ariane 4’s successor needed to keep pace with the steadily growing size and mass of geostationary satellites, and also to have the capability to deliver satellites to more diverse orbits, notably heavy payloads to low Earth orbit, with an increasing demand for scientific and observation satellites.
The flawless launch of the 8-ton Envisat satellite on March 2, 2002 ushered in a new era in environmental monitoring capabilities
Compared to Ariane 4, Ariane 5 was a complete re-design, passing from three to two stages: a cryogenic main stage with the Vulcain 2 main engine plus two strap-on solid rocket boosters, and an upper stage powered by the HM7B, an evolution of the engine used on Ariane 4, or the re-ignitable Aestus engine, depending on the mission.
Ariane 5 is the symbol and guarantor of Europe’s independent access to space
Ariane 5 is today the world reference for launcher reliability, with a near-perfect mission success rate, and its modular (single/dual/multiple launch) capacity enables it to respond to a wide scope of mission specifications from classic communication satellites to audacious interplanetary missions.
Exploded diagram of Ariane 5
As the market demanded ever bigger, heavier satellites, Ariane 5 has consistently bettered its performance capability, again and again setting new records for launching the largest satellite payload to geostationary orbit.
Flight VA237, June 1, 2017, set a new record for payload lift with 10,865 kg
Many of the most important missions which have radically expanded knowledge about the solar system and the cosmos began their space adventures on-board Ariane 5, including XMM-Newton, the first operational Ariane 5 flight (1999), Rosetta (2004), Herschel/Planck (2009), and BepiColombo (2018).
May 14, 2009: Ariane 5’s 30th consecutive successful flight takes to the skies carrying the Herschel and Planck scientific satellites
Between 2008 and 2014, Ariane 5, using a specially adapted ES version, launched all five of the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) supply ships for the International Space Station, at around 20 tons by far the largest spacecraft ever built in Europe.
Flight V219 carrying the fifth and final ATV ISS cargo supply mission, ATV-5 Georges Lemaître, on July 29, 2014
Photo credits: ArianeGroup, Arianespace, CNES, ESA