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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 23:57 GMT
Heavy-lift Ariane flies skyward
Ariane 5-ECA launches from Kourou (Arianespace)

Europe's most powerful rocket - the Ariane 5-ECA - has launched two satellites from French Guiana.

It roared away from Kourou spaceport with the thrust of 20 Concordes, on cue at 2046 local time (2346GMT).

It was only the third flight for the 780-tonne rocket, which experienced the ignominy of having to be destroyed on its maiden outing in 2002.

The ECA has the power to push 10,000kg of payload towards geostationary orbit, 36,000km above the Earth.

Onboard Wednesday's flight was the Spaceway 2 satellite, which is owned by DirecTV and designed to deliver high-definition television to US cities; and the Telekom 2 spacecraft, which will be used by PT Telekom Indonesia to expand its telephony and data coverage in Asia.

The Ariane 5-ECA first flew successfully earlier this year and will now take on a busier workload.

Jean-Yves Le Gall (Arianespace)
This clearly proves the very high reliability of our launcher
Jean-Yves Le Gall, CEO Arianespace
It is critical to the future of Arianespace, the company charged with launching Europe's rockets.

Because the vehicle can loft several larger satellites at once, it can keep costs down. This is important in what has become a highly competitive but relatively flat market for launchers.

"This represents the 20th success for Ariane 5 and the 10th in a row," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, the chief executive of Arianespace, just after confirmation came through of final separation.

"This clearly proves the very high reliability of our launcher. More than eight tonnes were injected into orbit tonight and this is a world record."

The ECA is a development of the generic Ariane 5 launcher that went into full commercial service in 1999.

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

It has two solid boosters to lift it off the ground, a cryogenic main stage to do most of the work of getting into orbit, and an upper stage to place the satellites in the target orbit, or geostationary transfer orbit.

From this altitude, the spacecraft use their own onboard propulsion systems to move into final parking positions high above the planet.

To get the extra performance, the ECA's solid boosters carry more propellant and the main Vulcain cryogenic engine has been modified to improve its combustion of liquid oxygen and hydrogen.

The main difference, however, is the introduction of a new upper stage based on tried and tested technologies used on the much older Ariane 4 launcher.

Artist's impression of SSTL's Galileo test satellite (Esa)

This provides about 60% of the performance gain over the generic vehicle.

Arianespace's next mission will be in the second half of December, using a standard Ariane 5 to orbit the Insat 4A satellite for the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the MSG-2 weather satellite for Eumetsat (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites).

This will be followed by a 28 December launch of a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. This is being organised by Starsem, an Arianespace subsidiary.

It will see the first flight for Europe's Galileo satellite-navigation system.

The Ariane rocket (BBC)

Europe names Galileo trailblazer
09 Nov 05 |  Science/Nature
Q&A: Jean-Yves Le Gall
30 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature
Europe's super-rocket rides high
12 Feb 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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