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1979: Europe launches first rocket

VIDEO : Ariane could become a competitor to US space shuttle

The first European-built rocket, Ariane 1, has successfully completed its maiden flight.

The space launcher finally took off from the Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana on its third attempt.

Test flight technicians have declared the flight an almost complete success. All three stages seemed to have fired and separated correctly and its tiny payload, an automatic tracking device, was put into the right orbit.

The success of Ariane 1's maiden flight is a major boost for the European Space Agency which first gave the go-ahead for the rocket in 1973.

The space launcher - built by the 10 nation European Space Agency - was due to blast off eight days ago but one of its four engines apparently failed to ignite and the launch had to be abandoned.

Maiden flight

A second attempt yesterday also had to be cancelled because of malfunctions in the third stage of the rocket.

It is hoped the rocket will now be used to launch commercially profitable television, communication and other useful satellites throughout the 1980s - in competition with the American shuttle programme.

The rocket has been largely built by the French who have also borne 60% of the cost of the entire venture. The West Germans provided nearly 20% and the British are near the bottom of the list of contributors, providing less than 2.5% of the cost.

As long as two out of its first four test flights are considered a success, Ariane has already got at least one order in the pipeline.

The deal worth 22m would be to launch a communications satellite for Intelsat, the worldwide agency for spaceborne telephone, telex and TV links.

In June of this year, a new company called Arianespace was formed to produce, market and finance the Ariane launch vehicle from the first quarter of 1980. The shareholders include 35 European companies, 10 banks and the French space agency CNES.

In Context
The Ariane 1 completed its test programme successfully. During its career, it placed 14 satellites into orbit during 11 missions.

Only months after Ariane 1's entry into service, Europe decided in July 1980 to build a second and third version of the launcher, Ariane 2 and 3, with the capacity to carry bigger payloads.

Arianespace became the world leader in commercial launch services and introduced the concept of being able to carry two telecommunications satellites at a time.

Ariane 4 entered service in June 1988. It flew 116 missions, taking 182 payloads into space before its retirement in February 2003.

The replacement, Ariane 5, exploded on its maiden flight but the design flaw was identified and eliminated and in July 2004 it successfully launched the biggest commercial telecommunications satellite.

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