In ten days, Ariane 5 is over! Preparations for the last mission are underway

Eric Bottlaender

Space specialist

June 06, 2023 at 2:05 p.m.


Ariane 5 final launch launcher preparation © ArianeGroup

The legend, and nothing less! The ArianeGroup crest announces the color. Credits ArianeGroup

It’s the last straight line. The teams of Guiana Space Center will soon hoist the two Syracuse 4b and Heinrich Hertz military satellites with their fairings on Ariadne 5. The latter will attempt to set off on June 16 for its final mission, while on the ground it will be necessary to make way for dismantling.

A chapter closes!

We have to talk about it (except satellites)

This is a dilemma that communication teams would no doubt have wanted to avoid. The last launch of Ariane 5, after twenty-seven years of career and more than a hundred take-offs… And it is, coincidentally, dedicated to two military satellites. A Frenchman (Syracuse 4b) and a German (Heinrich Hertz) who will be ejected into a geostationary transfer orbit, before going to provide encrypted and secure communications for the armies of the two countries (H. Hertz is also dedicated to research ). Two very discreet payloads… for a take-off that would like to be a party! At the Guiana Space Center, as at all the industrial sites that have been producing components for nearly 30 years for the one that has become a European flagship, a page in the history of launchers is turning!

Ariane 5 final firing launcher assembly © ESA/CNES/CSG/Arianespace/ S. Martin

The last Ariane 5 almost assembled (only the upper composite remains). Credits ESA/CNES/Arianespace/CSG/S.Martin

Everything is (almost) ready

There are only ten days left before takeoff, and currently the two satellites must be at the fairing stage. The smaller of the two satellites is installed under the SYLDA, which is used to superimpose the two vehicles, while the heavier is placed on top. Both are then covered by the long Ariane 5 ECA fairing (and possibly by an extension, depending on their size, called a ferrule). Once the assembly is under the fairing, the latter is lifted and installed on Ariane 5 within the BAF, the final assembly building. Three days before the final count, all the teams meet to give the green light, then around 48 hours before the launch, Ariane 5 is transferred to its launch area. Then there is the long and stressful pre-launch timeline, with the filling of the hydrogen and oxygen tanks, then the weather clearances… It will all end with the ignition of the engines and the top of the DDO, the director of operations.

It is also the last time that we will see a launcher rolling for a long time in Europe, the others (Vega and Ariane 6) remain under their gantry until the moment of launch. Credits ESA/CNES/arianespace/CSG/S.Martin

The end of a legend!

It will be 117e and last launch of an Ariane 5 rocket, known for its heavy launches and its impressive reliability, one of the best in the world since 2002 (the first years it did not shine so much). Having become expensive to operate, it was to be gradually replaced by Ariane 6, but the latter is late, and the period ensuring continuity between the two powerful European launchers did not finally take place. To save money, the norm was indeed to order batches of Ariane 5, and the last order of ten took place in January 2018. It is therefore no longer possible, and for several years, to add rockets while the he industrial tool is gradually being dismantled and directed towards its successor. At the Guiana Space Center, we will also have to think about this reconversion, with several buildings that will soon be useless, such as the BIL (launcher integration building), the BAF or the launch area, the ELA-3. All eyes will however be turned a little further west with the last (and most important) combined tests of Ariane 6 at the ELA-4…

Ariane 5 JWST takeoff © NASA/B.  Ingalls

She will be missed. ESA Credits

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