Follow the preparations and launch of the Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Hot Bird 7 and Stentor spacecraft. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.


The Ariane 5 rocket suffered major engine trouble before going out of control and exploding over the Atlantic Ocean during Wednesday's botched launch, Arianespace officials said today. Read our update story with new details on the failure.

1440 GMT (9:40 a.m. EST)

Arianespace has completed a news conference in Kourou. Here is the preliminary timeline of Wednesday's failed launch:

  • HO=0 sec: Ignition of the core stage Vulcain 2 engine built by Snecma.

  • HO+7 sec: Solid rocket booster ignition.

  • HO+7.3 sec: Liftoff.

  • HO+13 sec: The rocket's vertical climb ends and begins a 10 second pitch rotation to place it on the correct trajectory.

  • HO+17 sec: The launch vehicle performs a roll maneuver.

  • HO+96 sec: The first indication of a problem is noted when a pressure loss is detected in the cooling system of the first-stage Vulcain 2 engine.

  • HO+137 sec: The twin solid rocket boosters, which provided 90 percent of the liftoff thrust, are jettisoned.

  • HO+178-186 sec: "A major problem" with the Vulcain 2 engine results in problems with the flight control of the launch vehicle. The nature of this engine problem has yet to be fully established.

  • HO+187 sec: Jettison of the fairing occurs, but the instability of the flight path results in a complete loss of control of the vehicle over the next 10 seconds. The Ariane 5 is at an altitude of about 150 km.

  • HO+455 sec: With the Ariane 5 core stage tumbling out of control and plunging toward the Atlantic Ocean, range safety systems are fired to break-up the vehicle. The flight is terminated at an altitude of 69 km. The wreckage impacted the water 800 to 1,000 km from the launch site.


Arianespace was hit by a massive setback Wednesday night when the upgraded Ariane 5 rocket failed minutes into its debut flight, plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean with two communications satellites aboard. Read our full story.

2257 GMT (5:57 p.m. EST)

Here's the full comments by Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall as spoken by the English translator.

"As you have seen an anomaly appeared during tonight's flight, three minutes after liftoff, which means of course an early end of our mission. Right now it is too soon to give a clear explanation of the failure. But first of all let me on behalf of Arianespace and its partners excuse ourselves to our clients Eutelsat and CNES.

"As you know our job is difficult as we have been reminded tonight in a most cruel way. Tonight's failure is very serious but we have been through difficult times before, always overcome our difficulties and we will overcome this one once again. Our teams are already working.

"Information will be given tomorrow, on the 12th of December, during a press conference organized in Kourou at 10 a.m. Kourou time or 2 p.m. Paris time."

2238 GMT (5:38 p.m. EST)

This was the 14th Ariane 5 launch since the heavy-lift booster entered service in 1996 and the third total mission failure. One additional mission failed to reach to proper orbit during the rocket's second test flight.

Today's launch was the first flight of the enhanced Vulcain 2 main engine that powers the rocket during the initial nine minutes. The rocket was also sporting the new cryogenic upper stage, which obviously was not used in this failed mission.

Lost in today's failed launch of the Ariane 5 rocket is Eutelsat's Hot Bird 7 direct broadcasting satellite and the French Space Agency's Stentor communications satellite technology demonstrator.

2235 GMT (5:35 p.m. EST)

"As you have seen an anomaly appeared during tonight's flight, three minutes after liftoff," Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall just announced. "Right now it is too soon to give a clear explanation of the failure."

2231 GMT (5:31 p.m. EST)

FAILURE! The first flight of the upgraded Ariane 5 rocket has ended in failure today. Something went wrong a few minutes into the flight carrying a pair of communications satellites as the vehicle was heading downrange over the Atlantic.

2227 GMT (5:27 p.m. EST)

Plus+7 minutes. It appears today's launch has failed during the core stage burn. Arianespace has not provided any information. The CEO is going to make a statement.

2227 GMT (5:27 p.m. EST)

Plus+6 minutes. Something has gone wrong with the launch. The vehicle is losing altitude and speed.

2227 GMT (5:27 p.m. EST)

Plus+5 minutes, 40 seconds. Altitude is 140 km, velocity is 2.04 km/sec.

2225 GMT (5:25 p.m. EST)

Plus+4 minutes. Altitude is 136 km, velocity is 2 km/sec.

2225 GMT (5:25 p.m. EST)

Plus+3 minutes, 35 seconds. The protective payload fairing enclosing the two satellites has been separated from the Ariane 5.

2224 GMT (5:24 p.m. EST)

Plus+3 minutes. Altitude is 107 km, velocity is 2.07 km/sec.

2224 GMT (5:24 p.m. EST)

Plus+2 minutes, 35 seconds. The solid rocket boosters have been jettisoned from the Ariane 5 rocket's core stage. The boosters provided 90 percent of the liftoff thrust. The liquid-fueled Vulcain 2 main engine continues to fire to propel the vehicle and its satellite payload to orbit.

2223 GMT (5:23 p.m. EST)

Plus+1 minute, 30 seconds. About one minute left in the burn by the solid rocket boosters.

2222 GMT (5:22 p.m. EST)

The rocket has made its pitch and rolls maneuvers as it heads east from the South American jungle for geosynchronous transfer orbit carrying the Hot Bird 7 direct broadcasting satellite and French Stentor technology demonstration spacecraft.

2221:25 GMT (5:21:25 p.m. EST)

LIFTOFF! The Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket launches on the first flight with a new cryogenic upper stage. And the vehicle has cleared the pad!

2217 GMT (5:17 p.m. EST)

Flight pressurization of the onboard cryogenic propellant tanks is beginning.

2215 GMT (5:15 p.m. EST)

Synchronized Sequence start. Computers are now in control of this final segment of the launch countdown to prepare the rocket and ground systems for liftoff. There are computers running the countdown.

2212 GMT (5:12 p.m. EST)

Minus 10 minutes and counting.

2158 GMT (4:58 p.m. EST)

Minus 24 minutes and counting. Clocks are ticking down for the launch of Ariane 517 with Hot Bird 7 and Stentor. The status panel is green, indicating all systems are currently "go" for liftoff.


The countdown is underway in Kourou for today's launch of the Ariane 5 rocket. Liftoff is scheduled for 2222 GMT (5:22 p.m. EST), according to Arianespace.

Given Arianespace's decision not to broadcast the launch to the U.S., our coverage of the final count and flight will be hampered. Watch this page for what updates are possible.


Arianespace has officially rescheduled the Ariane 5 launch for Wednesday during a window of 2222-2314 GMT (5:22 to 6:14 p.m. EST).

The approval to proceed with another liftoff attempt was made after the replacement of two external hydrogen burnoff flares on the launch table. The first countdown was aborted with just a couple seconds left until engine start when ground computers didn't receive confirmation that the hydrogen burnoff system had been activated as planned. The flares did fire but sensors failed to provide data on the igniters' operation, Arianespace said.

1410 GMT (9:10 a.m. EST)

Contrary to his announcement last night that a problem opening the cryogenic arms caused the aborted launch, Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall just told reporters in a news conference that the arms did retract. The reason for the cutoff was the failure of computer software to register the firing of hydrogen burnoff flares beneath the Ariane 5 rocket's Vulcain 2 main engine.

The sparklers -- part of the on the launch pad platform -- are needed to burn away the residual hydrogen used in chilling the engine before ignition. Le Gall said the flares did indeed fire but that event apparently was not detected by the computer sequencer.

As a result, the engine ignition sequence was aborted prior to start of the Vulcain 2.

Because the umbilicals really did retract, the draining of the cryogenics from the upper stage can only be accomplished through purge lines, Le Gall said. That means it will take roughly 25 hours to detank the stage. Once completed, the rocket can be rolled back to the assembly building so technicians can investigate the hydrogen burn ignitor problem.

A new launch date is expected to be announced early next week.

Depending on the new date selected, some delay is possible to the planned mid-December launch of the next Ariane 4 flight. That rocket will loft the NSS-6 telecommunications satellite for New Skies Satellites.

Le Gall says there should be no impact on the planned January 12 launch of the next Ariane 5 carrying the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft. The comet probe must be launched during a tight 19-day period. Pre-flight processing of that rocket is well underway using the other Ariane 5 mobile launching platform.

2358 GMT (6:58 p.m. EST)

The launch team in Kourou will be fully draining the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants from the two-stage Ariane 5 rocket tonight following the aborted countdown.

Arianespace says the rocket will be rolled off its open-air launch pad, returning to the assembly building for troubleshooting.

The launch attempt was halted with just moments left on the clock when the cryogenic feed arms apparently failed to properly pull away from the Ariane 5. The arms extend from the tower-like service mast of the mobile launching platform atop which the rocket is assembled and rolled to the pad. They flow the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to the rocket's new cryogenic upper stage.

With the arms' failure to fully retract, the count was stopped before the Vulcain 2 first stage main engine was permitted to ignite.

According to the Arianespace press kit, the command to open the arms should occur at T-5.5 seconds. At T-4 seconds, the onboard computer takes control of the engine start and launch, including the verification that the arms are properly retracted. If there were no problems detected, the main engine would start at T-0 and the solid rocket boosters would ignite at T+7.3 seconds for liftoff.

It is not yet clear when the next launch opportunity will be.

2255 GMT (5:55 p.m. EST)

A problem in opening and retracting the cryogenic umbilical feed arms from the mobile launch platform to the Ariane 5 rocket's upper stage forced the countdown to be aborted in the moments prior to liftoff tonight, said Jean-Yves Le Gall, Arianespace's CEO.

It will take some time to understand the failure. No new launch date has been established. We'll update this page when more information is released by Arianespace.

2250 GMT (5:50 p.m. EST)

Obviously this is a scrub for tonight. When another launch attempt will be made isn't known at this point.

2248 GMT (5:48 p.m. EST)

Arianespace spokespeople say the main engine did not ignite. Safing of the vehicle is underway.

2247 GMT (5:47 p.m. EST)

There was a problem during the main engine ignition sequence in the final moments. The pad cameras showed the hdyrogen burnoff sparklers firing beneath the engine.

2247 GMT (5:47 p.m. EST)

ABORT in the final seconds!

2246:46 GMT (5:46:46 p.m. EST)

Now one minute from liftoff. Vehicle fuel tank pressures are being verified. Spacecraft payloads are ready. The new Ariane 5 is ready for another launch try tonight.

2244:46 GMT (5:44:46 p.m. EST)

Minus 3 minutes and counting.

2242 GMT (5:42 p.m. EST)

The new ignition time is 2247:46 GMT.

2240 GMT (5:40 p.m. EST)

Minus-7 minutes and counting. Clocks are rolling again for liftoff around 2247 GMT. Still no word on the technical problem or how it was fixed.

2240 GMT (5:40 p.m. EST)

Whatever the problem was, Arianespace says it is resolved. The countdown will be restarting shortly.

2237 GMT (5:37 p.m. EST)

Arianespace says troubleshooting efforts continue. Still no word on the exact nature of the problem that caused a cutoff of the countdown with just a few seconds left until ignition. The launch window remains open until 2304 GMT. With the count holding at Minus-7 minutes, clocks thus have to resume by 2257 GMT, or 20 minutes from now.

2231 GMT (5:31 p.m. EST)

The Stentor status panel is "green" again. However, the launch pad remains "red".

2225 GMT (5:25 p.m. EST)

Activities are underway to recondition the launch vehicle systems and pad for another launch attempt today, including topping off the onboard fuel tanks. There has been no further word from Arianespace on what caused the hold in the count.

2222 GMT (5:22 p.m. EST)

The countdown has recycled back to Minus-7 minutes and holding. Today's launch window runs 43 minutes to 2304 GMT.

2221 GMT (5:21 p.m. EST)

Authorization, launch pad and Stentor spacecraft status panels have gone "red" for "no go" condition.

2220 GMT (5:20 p.m. EST)

ABORT! Countdown clock has stopped at Minus 13 seconds.

2220 GMT (5:20 p.m. EST)

Minus-1 minute and counting.

2217 GMT (5:17 p.m. EST)

Minus-4 minutes and counting. All systems remain ready for flight.

2214 GMT (5:14 p.m. EST)

Minus-7 minutes and counting. Synchronized Sequence start. Computers are now in control of this final segment of the launch countdown to prepare the rocket and ground systems for liftoff. There are computers running the countdown.

2210 GMT (5:10 p.m. EST)

Minus 10 minutes, 30 seconds. The technical problem appears to have been fixed. The status panel in the Jupiter control center is now all green, indicating systems are ready for liftoff at 2221 GMT tonight.

2202 GMT (5:02 p.m. EST)

Minus 18 minutes, 30 seconds. The countdown is continuing but the launch team is working a problem with the communications links between the rocket and ground.

2151 GMT (4:51 p.m. EST)

Minus 30 minutes. Launch of the Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana on the northeast coast of South America should be a half-hour away. Today's window opens at 2221 GMT (5:21 p.m. EST). Arianespace is expected to begin providing countdown updates in about 10 minutes.

Arianespace chose not to provide a live satellite broadcast of this launch. So our coverage will be limited as a result.


In one of the final major steps before launch, the Ariane 5 rocket was rolled to the launch pad Wednesday, capping off an intensive string of tests and preparations over the last few months.

Launch is still slated to occur on time from the ELA-3 launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, at 2221 GMT (5:21 p.m. EST). The launch window extends for 43 minutes to 2304 GMT (6:04 p.m. EST).

This mission will mark the 156th Ariane launch dating back to 1979, the 14th flight of the Ariane 5 rocket, and the 11th Ariane launch of 2002.

In addition to the Hot Bird 7 and Stentor satellite payloads, Flight 157 also carries three ballast weights that total 4,312 pounds.

Preparations for Flight 157 were officially kicked on August 22 with the hoisting of the first stage atop its mobile launch table. Testing of new umbilical fueling lines for the upper stage had been underway previously.

The rocket's two solid rocket boosters were put into place on August 23 and final attachment occurred on August 26.

The cryogenic upper stage was mated atop the first stage on September 5, followed on September 11 by the placement of the vehicle's equipment bay.

The Ariane 5 was rolled from the launcher integration building to the final assembly building on September 30.

Hot Bird 7 arrived in Kourou on October 2, followed a week later on October 9 by the arrival of the Stentor spacecraft.

The rocket was rolled out to the launch pad, and on October 16 the launch team conducted a comprehensive launch rehearsal, culminating with a short ignition of the Vulcain 2 main engine. A second countdown test was performed November 5.

The two satellite payloads were fueled with maneuvering propellant throughout the second week of November.

Stentor was mated to the launcher on November 19, while Hot Bird 7 and the Sylda dual payload adapter were added on November 20.

A final dress rehearsal was performed last Friday, November 22, followed by a relatively quiet weekend at the South American spaceport.

Senior managers gathered on Tuesday and formally cleared Flight 157 for launch, and ordnance connections were made later in the day.

Wednesday saw rollout of the completed launcher to the ELA-3 pad.

Flight 157 will be the first use of the more powerful Ariane 5 version, called Ariane 5 ECA, that increases the launcher's payload capability to geostationary transfer orbit to 10 metric tons, or about 22,000 pounds. Previous basic Ariane 5's had a capability to deliver over 13,500 pounds to such an orbit.

Standing 166 feet tall, this new configuration uses a cryogenic upper stage that traces its heritage to the venerable Ariane 4 rocket. The HM-7B engine -- which has flown more than 130 times -- and upper stage accounts for approximately 60 percent of the payload capability increase.

A modified first stage engine will also see action for the first time, with changes to increase thrust by 20 percent. Built by Snecma of France, the new Vulcain 2 engine burns a more liquid oxygen-rich propellant mixture at slightly higher pressure levels. The first stage liquid oxygen tank was enlarged without any major structure alterations to accommodate this. The Vulcain 2 is responsible for almost 3,000 pounds of the payload increase.

The solid rocket boosters of the Ariane 5 were also slightly redesigned and now hold slightly more propellant, allowing for more thrust in the early phases of flight. This alone means about 880 pounds of additional payload capability.

Plans call for an increase to almost 26,000 pounds in about 2006 with the debut of the new Vinci re-ignitable cryogenic engine on the upper stage.

Looking ahead to the events of launch day, the final countdown will commence at 1051 GMT (5:51 a.m. EST). A check of electrical systems will take place at 1451 GMT (9:51 a.m. EST). The first and second stages will be filled with their load of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen starting at 1731 GMT (12:31 p.m. EST). At 1901 GMT (2:01 p.m. EST), the Vulcain 2 main engine chilldown will begin, conditioning the powerplant for flight. A check of connections between the launcher and telemetry, tracking, and command systems will be at 2111 GMT (4:11 p.m. EST). The crucial start of the synchronized launch sequence -- the final computer-controlled countdown -- is seven minutes prior to liftoff. Following that milestone, a series of fast-paced events occur, culminating in the ignition of the Vulcain 2 main engine. The twin boosters ignite seven seconds later, signaling liftoff.

The launch will take the standard Ariane 5 ascent profile, with the two boosters burning for two minutes, 17 seconds before being released. The protective payload fairing will be jettisoned a little over three minutes into flight.

The first stage will continue to fire until about 9 minutes after launch, when it will shutdown and separate from the upper stage and payload. Ignition of the upper sate will occur shortly after that, and it will burn for 15-and-a-half minutes until it shuts down almost 25 minutes into flight.

Separation of Hot Bird 7 occurs at T+27 minutes, 25 seconds, and separation of Stentor is expected 35 minutes, 41 seconds after liftoff.


Arianespace is poised to debut a new version of its heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket Thursday evening in a mission to deliver a pair of European satellites into space.

The half-hour flight will begin with liftoff from the ELA-3 launch zone at the Guiana Space Center at 2221 GMT (5:21 p.m. EST). The available launch window extends to 2304 GMT (6:04 p.m. EST).

This launch will be widely-watched by many in the satellite and aerospace industries because the Ariane 5 "10-ton" or Ariane 5 ECA, will be the first to use a cryogenic upper stage that traces its heritage to the venerable Ariane 4 launcher. An augmented version of the Ariane 5's previous Vulcain engine will also be flight-tested.

The new upper stage uses a Snecma-built HM-7B engine fed by super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the same powerplant used for almost 15 years as the third stage in the highly successful Ariane 4 program, which is now nearing an end.

All earlier Ariane 5 missions have used a storable propellant hypergolic upper stage using a single Aestus engine. An Ariane 5 launch failure in July 2001 was blamed on that engine.

The so-called Vulcain 2 engine -- also cryogenic and built by Snecma -- is similar to the Vulcain flown on all previous Ariane 5 launches, although with some changes to increase thrust.

When tallied up, these two major modifications increase the Ariane 5's lift capability to geostationary transfer orbit to over 10 metric tons, a number yet unmatched by any commercial launcher in the world.

The payloads for the inaugural flight of this Ariane 5 version are Eutelsat's Hot Bird 7 communications spacecraft and the French CNES space agency's Stentor technology demonstrator.

Hot Bird 7 will be the fourth satellite added to Eutelsat's expanding constellation in the past three months, and the second to launch in the past 8 days after the successful flight of the Delta 4 rocket last Wednesday night to deliver Eutelsat's W5 into orbit.

To be positioned with other members of the Hot Bird fleet in geostationary orbit at 13 degrees East along the Equator, Hot Bird 7 will provide up to 40 transponders for Ku-band programming to replace Hot Bird 3 and to help answer the demand for next-generation digital entertainment services. That vantage point will allow Hot Bird 7's superwidebeam and two steerable spotbeams to reach customers over a wide swath of area not just limited to Europe.

Hot Bird 7 -- built by Astrium -- will operate in orbit for at least 12 years. It has a launch weight of 7,370 pounds and its solar panels stretch about 92 feet tip-to-tip.

The satellite will augment the architecture and capabilities already in place to serve almost 100 million users with direct-to-home satellite and cable programming across Europe, parts of northern Africa, and the Middle East. The service includes almost 700 analog and digital television channels and over 560 radio channels, plus a wealth of other multimedia services.

Riding in the lower position of the Sylda 5 dual payload adapter is the French CNES space agency's Stentor technology demonstation spacecraft, a project that will test a number of new technologies and equipment that engineers hope one day will be applied to future satellites.

Partners in the Stentor project include the French space agency CNES, France Telecom, and the French Ministry of Defence.

The satellite is made of a variety of experimental components, about 80 percent of which is considered new to the industry. The 9-year mission will conduct engineering research into the operations of cutting edge equipment, as well as evaluate how the systems perform over a long period of time.

Other objectives include the demonstration of new telecommunications services that could be provided to the public on future communications craft.

Built and developed jointly by Astrium and Alcatel Space, Stentor has a launch weight of about 4,862 pounds and its twin power-producing solar arrays span over 50 feet. After separating from the Ariane 5 launcher, its thrusters will guide it into geostationary orbit 22,300 miles above the equator at 11 degrees West.

Stay with Spaceflight Now for a full report Thursday on the intensive preparations in advance of this flight, as well as updates during the countdown and launch Thursday night.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 5
Payload: Hot Bird 7 & Stentor
Launch date: Dec. 11, 2002
Launch window: 2222-2314 GMT (5:22-6:14 p.m. EST)
Launch site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana, South America
Satellite broadcast: NO feed to U.S.

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