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Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 11:47 GMT
Ariane 4 blasts into history
Ariane 4 (bbc)
The Ariane 4 is being retired
The final mission for Europe's Ariane 4 series of rockets has been successfully carried out, with the placing in orbit of a communications satellite on Saturday.

The Ariane 4 has been in service for nearly 15 years and has well over 100 safe launches to its credit.

It is being replaced by the much larger Ariane 5 rocket, which is capable of carrying bigger payloads into space.

Ariane 5 has been in commercial use since 1999, but has a troubled record for operator Arianespace.

It blew up on its maiden flight in 1996, and last December a heavier version of it had to be destroyed shortly after take-off because it developed problems.

Shadow of Columbia

Saturday's launch - the 116th - had been delayed three times because of strong winds at high altitudes over the launch-pad in Kourou, French Guiana.

Ariane 4
Entered service in 1988
Final mission 15 Feb
Last cargo: Intelsat 907 telecomms satellite

Flight 159 was to be a triumphant event but the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and problems with the new launch vehicle have cast a shadow over space exploration.

Out of 14 launches of the successor Ariane 5 so far, two rockets have exploded and two have put satellites into the wrong orbits.

Future plans

After Saturday's launch, Arianespace president Jean-Yves Le Gall told journalists that the Ariane 5 loss in December would cost the European space programme 300 million euros.

Arianespace is planning to relaunch a basic version of the Ariane 5 after the end of March, carrying two telecommunications satellites.

Also in prospect is the launch early in 2005 of a 4.7 ton satellite to provide high-speed internet access throughout the Americas.

Ariane 4 is being eased out of service because of market pressure to put bigger commercial satellites into orbit more cheaply.

It took Esa 10 years and $7bn to produce the Ariane 5, a rocket intended to give Europe dominance in the commercial space business.


See also:

13 Feb 03 | Science/Nature
02 Feb 03 | Americas
12 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
12 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
21 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
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