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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 00:25 GMT 01:25 UK
Perfect flight for Ariane
Europe's Ariane 5 rocket is back in business.

Ariane 5, AFP
Europe's launcher lifts clear of the pad
The vehicle sent two satellites towards geostationary orbits on Wednesday, its first mission since a heavy-lift version of the rocket blew up in December.

The Ariane roared into the night sky over the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 1952 local time (2252 GMT) to execute a flawless delivery of its Indian and US payloads.

The successful launch will come as a huge fillip to the operating company, Arianespace, and its European consortium members.

"Despite all the difficulties that we have had in this difficult period these last few months, everyone has worked extremely hard for this launch," said a delighted Jean-Yves Le Gall, director-general of Arianespace.

"We are able to ensure the continuation of our services. We are committed to giving our customers the services they need."

The commercial launch market is depressed and investor confidence has been ruffled by the Ariane 5's somewhat difficult introduction.

Standard version

Of its 14 previous flights, two had resulted in the total destruction of the vehicle and payload, and two had seen satellites put into the wrong orbits.

The most recent failure occurred on 11 December, when a beefed up version of Ariane 5 self-destructed four minutes into its journey after a cooling system on the main Vulcain-2 cryogenic engine malfunctioned.

Extremely high temperatures had distorted the engine's nozzle, sending the rocket off course.

Wednesday's launch involved the standard version of the Ariane 5 rocket, which uses a less powerful Vulcain-1 engine. Nevertheless, it had to go through an extensive review process before it was cleared for flight.

It was as a result of this review that Europe had to postpone its daring mission to land a spacecraft on a comet. Its first solo mission to the Moon also had to be delayed - it will now fly in July.

Day's delay

The Ariane 5 is western Europe's only launcher following the retirement of the hugely successful and reliable Ariane 4 series of rockets. The 5 must now build a similar reputation in an industry which is suffering from over-capacity and reduced demand.

Indeed, the difficulties experienced by Arianespace were highlighted on Wednesday when the company confirmed it would be seeking one billion euros of fresh funding from investors - member states and companies in the consortium - to maintain and develop its operations.

Last year, the company posted an operating loss of between 50 and 60 million euros.

Earlier this week, Le Gall told the Financial Times that the future of Ariane 5 would hinge on EU governments' willingness to increase financial contributions to Europe's space programme.

"The issue is whether Europe wants to maintain an independent space industry at a time when its US competitors are being heavily subsidised," he said.

The two spacecraft lifted into orbit on Wednesday are operated by longstanding customers of Arianespace.

The Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Insat 3A is a 2,950-kilogram TV, meteorology and communications satellite. It was released from Ariane's upper stage 29 minutes after launch.

PanAmSat's Galaxy XII will provide telecommunications links between continental USA, Alaska and Hawaii. It was released 40 minutes after blast-off.

ISRO immediately announced it was placing two more of its satellites with Arianespace.

Wednesday's mission should have flown on Tuesday, but the Indians had requested a delay to make additional checks on the Insat 3A.

Mapping the Moon
04 Apr 03  |  Science/Nature
Europe's launcher back in action
11 Mar 03  |  Science/Nature
Ariane 4 blasts into history
15 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature
Engine glitch brought down rocket
07 Jan 03  |  Science/Nature

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