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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 February, 2005, 21:41 GMT
Europe's super-rocket rides high
Launch of the Ariane 5-ECA (Esa/CNES/ARIANESPACE-S. CORVAJA)
The flight erases the memory of 2002
Europe has launched its most powerful rocket to date - the Ariane 5-ECA.

The 50m-high (160ft) vehicle blasted off from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 2103 GMT, putting eight tonnes of satellite payload into orbit.

It was the ECA's first flight following its disastrous maiden outing in 2002, when the rocket was destroyed as it veered out of control over the ocean.

Launch company Arianespace believes the vehicle will be crucial in helping it maintain a strong market position.

"This is the success we all waited for, and I thank all those who contributed," said Arianespace chief Jean-Yves Le Gall. "This launch erases the failure of December 2002."

Systems check

The ECA should substantially reduce the costs of lofting spacecraft, down from between $30-40,000 per kg to $15-20,000 per kg.

The rocket can deliver several satellites at once, taking a maximum of 10 tonnes into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

What satellites are for, where they go, and how they are launched

Saturday's mission, described as a qualification flight, orbited two satellites: the Spanish XTAR-EUR military communications payload and an experimental spacecraft, called SloshSat, which will study how fluids behave in orbit.

Equipment to monitor and report back on the performance of the launch also took the ride into space.

The Ariane 5-ECA is a beefed-up version of its predecessor - the Ariane 5-Generic, which can deliver about six tonnes to a GTO.

Its two solid boosters have been engineered to carry more propellant and there is more thrust from a new cryogenic upper stage.

There is an updated version, too, of the Vulcain engine on the main cryogenic stage.

This was the part of the new launcher that failed two years ago on the maiden flight. The inquiry board that looked into the accident identified the probable cause as a leak in the Vulcain nozzle's cooling circuit.

This caused the nozzle to deform and sent the ECA off course; a self-destruct mechanism brought the rocket down far out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Independent lift

Arianespace operates Europe's rockets under a charter of the European Space Agency.

Launch of the Ariane 5-ECA (Esa/CNES/ARIANESPACE-S. CORVAJA)
A perfect launch on a perfect day
It is owned by a grouping of European governments, aerospace firms, banks and the French space agency CNES.

The French minister for research, Francois D'Aubert, saluted the engineers and scientists at Kourou.

"This success has particular symbolic value," he said. "It's a question of sovereignty; a launch capability is a vital instrument for European governments.

"It gives them guaranteed access to space and gives them the information they need for political, economic and scientific reasons."

US company Boeing recently launched its biggest-lift rocket, the Delta 4-Heavy, which has the capability to put 13 tonnes of payload into a geostationary transfer orbit.

However, the Boeing vehicle is not currently being offered to the commercial satellite sector and is being reserved for US military work.

Watch the Ariane 5-ECA blast off

Q&A: Jean-Yves Le Gall
30 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature
Europe's 'super rocket' to launch
13 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature
Clawing back demand for satellites
26 Dec 04 |  Science/Nature
Major satellite lift for Ariane
18 Jul 04 |  Science/Nature
Europe's rockets get boosted
27 May 03 |  Science/Nature
Engine glitch brought down rocket
07 Jan 03 |  Science/Nature

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