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Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK


Perfect blast-off for Ariane

Lift-off: Third time lucky

Europe's flagship space project is back on track after the successful launch of the third Ariane-5 rocket.

Watch the launch of the Ariane rocket on BBC News24
The rocket's success was vital to the credibility of the European space programme after the first Ariane-5 blew up on take-off two years ago.

This time there were only minor hitches. After two delays in the countdown, the rocket blasted off from Kourou in French Guyana at 1338 local time (1638 GMT).

[ image: The rocket detached its fuel containers after lift-off]
The rocket detached its fuel containers after lift-off
Thirty-one minutes later it successfully simulated the launching of a "dummy" satellite.

Confirming Ariane 5's capacity to lob satellites into orbit at an altitude of 1,500 kms (932 miles) was a prime goal of this test mission.

Damian Grammaticus: "Ariane passes its final test"
A capsule was also dropped from the rocket to simulate a manned re-entry into the atmosphere. The capsule is due to be recovered from the Pacific Ocean.

The French President Jacques Chirac congratulated all involved in the successful test of what will now be Europe's new satellite launcher.

Troubled history

The European Space Agency 's new-generation rocket, capable of carrying six tons of equipment into space, has been dogged by technical problems and delays.

[ image: Tense moments for ground control]
Tense moments for ground control
The first test launch exploded 37 seconds after lift-off in June 1996, destroying a $500m scientific satellite.

A second Ariane-5 flight in October 1997 restored a certain measure of confidence to the 10-year, $10bn programme, although the payload found the wrong orbit.

The third launch was the last before commercial satellites are put into orbit next year.

The rocket is crucial to the European space programme's credibility, not least because it wants to use Ariane to ferry astronauts from the new International Space Station.

[ image: The first Ariane-5 launch exploded]
The first Ariane-5 launch exploded
Dr Martin Barstow, from Leicester University, said: "We've got to produce something that is not going to burn up in the atmosphere and although the older Apollo vehicles were able to return to Earth successfully we have not done this kind of thing for quite a long time."

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