Ariane Launch Report


December 3, 1999 -- Follow the launch of the French Helios 1B military satellite aboard an Arianespace Ariane 40 rocket. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

1657 GMT (1157 EST)

A pair of French military satellites were successfully delivered into Earth orbit today aboard an Ariane 40 rocket. Liftoff came on schedule from the South American jungle launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. See a picture of the beautiful daytime launch.

The primary payload, the Helios 1B optical reconnaissance satellite for the French Ministry of Defence, will undergo testing and checkout for the next three months before entering service. The first image from the craft could be taken in about two days.

The next launch for Arianespace is one week away. The first commercial flight of the Ariane 5 rocket is planned for December 10 at 1432 GMT (0932 EST). We will have complete coverage of the final pre-launch preparations and live updates during launch of the European Space Agency's X-ray Multi-Mirror observatory.

The next Ariane 4 launch is expected around December 21 when the Galaxy 11 communications satellite will be launched for PanAmSat.

This will complete our Mission Status Center coverage of Arianespace Flight 124.

1644 GMT (1144 EST)

Plus 22 minutes. Separation of the Clementine microsatellite has been confirmed, completing today's launch of the Ariane 4 rocket.

This successful flight is the 50th straight for Ariane 4, setting a new record in the commercial launch market. The previous record by the Delta 2 rocket was 49, but ended in 1995.

1642 GMT (1142 EST)

Plus 20 minutes. Now less than two minutes away from deployment of the Clementine secondary payload.

1641 GMT (1141 EST)

Plus 18 minutes, 30 seconds. The Helios 1B satellite has deployed into space from the Ariane's third stage.

1640 GMT (1140 EST)

Plus 18 minutes. The single Snecma HM 7B third stage engine has shut down as planned. The Aerospatiale Matra-built stage will now provide the necessary pointing and alignment for payload separation.

1639 GMT (1139 EST)

Plus 17 minutes. The Ariane 4 rocket has passed out of range from the Kourou tracking station. About one minute left in powered flight before shut down of the third stage. ltitude of about 669.3 km, velocity: 7.0 km/sec.

1637 GMT (1137 EST)

Plus 15 minutes. The Ariane 4 rocket has reached its maximum altitude desired for the Helios 1B spacecraft being launched today. The vehicle is now at an altitude of about 669.7 km, but the velocity continues to accelerate.

1636 GMT (1136 EST)

Plus 14 minutes. Altitude: 665 km, velocity: 5.4 km/sec.

1634 GMT (1134 EST)

Plus 12 minutes. The Wallops Island tracking station in Virginia has acquired signal from the Ariane 4 rocket as it heads north away from South America toward a near-polar orbit.

1633 GMT (1133 EST)

Plus 11 minutes. About 7 minutes left in powered flight for the Ariane 40 rocket's third stage. Following deployment of Helios at Plus 18 minutes, 20 seconds, the Clementine secondary payload will be released at 21 minutes and 53 seconds into flight.

1631 GMT (1131 EST)

Plus 9 minutes. All system parameters aboard the rocket reported normal. Altitude: 543 km, velocity: 3.88 km/sec. The third stage continues it long-duration burn. Spacecraft separation for Helios will occur at 18 minutes, 20 seconds into flight.

1630 GMT (1130 EST)

Plus 8 minutes. Altitude: 489 km, velocity: 3.7 km/sec.

1628 GMT (1128 EST)

Plus 6 minutes. Vehicle reported on the proper trajectory. Third stage continues to burn. Altitude: 342 km, velocity: 3.5 km/sec.

1627 GMT (1127 EST)

Plus 5 minutes. The single Snecma Viking 4 engine aboard the Ariane's second stage has shut down and second stage has separted. Third stage ignition confirmed.

1626 GMT (1126 EST)

Plus 4 minutes. Payload fairing separation confirmed.

1625 GMT (1125 EST)

Plus 3 minutes. Four first stage Snecma Viking 5 engines are have cutoff and the first stage has separated to fall into the Atlantic.

1624 GMT (1124 EST)

Plus 2 minutes. Amazingly clear tracking camera video of the rocket during this rare daytime launch today. All systems go.

1623 GMT (1123 EST)

Plus 1 minute. All systems reported normal. Rocket continues to climb into a clear sky over the South American jungle.

1622 GMT (1122 EST)

LIFTOFF. Liftoff of an Ariane 40 rocket with two spacecraft for the French Ministry of Defence. The vehicle has cleared the tower.

1621 GMT (1121 EST)

Minus 1 minute. Equipment aboard the Ariane 40 rocket is being switched to onboard batteries for launch.

In the final seconds of the countdown, activities will include releasing the inertial platform at minus 9 seconds, and the release command to the retraction system for the two cryogenic arms will be given at minus 5 seconds.

1620 GMT (1120 EST)

Minus 2 minutes. Today's launch will be the 123rd for an Ariane rocket, the 8th of 1999, the 92nd Ariane 4 to be flown and the 7th for an Ariane 40 configuration vehicle.

1618 GMT (1118 EST)

Minus 3 minutes, 30 seconds. The launch time has been loaded aboard the Ariane rocket. Also, the Helios 1B and Clementine spacecraft are reported to be running on internal power and ready for launch.

1616 GMT (1116 EST)

Minus 6 minutes. Arianespace has given the go for synchronized launch sequence start. Computers are now in control of this final segment of the launch countdown. The exact launch time is targeted for 1622:46 GMT (11:22:46 a.m. EST).

During the last six minutes, the Ariane 40 rocket, satellite payloads and ground systems will be configured for launch. There are two master computers running the countdown. One is responsible for fluids and propellants and the other for final preparation of the electrical systems such as initiating the flight program, activation of the engine steering systems and power transfer from ground supplies to onboard batteries. The computers will control until minus 5 seconds when a majority logic sequencer takes over for first stage engine start at zero seconds. Engine performance checks are done in parallel by the two computers starting at plus 2.8 seconds. Finally, the command will be issued to open the launch table clamps for liftoff.

1612 GMT (1112 EST)

Minus 10 minutes. The countdown continues smoothly for an on-time launch today at 1622 GMT (11:22 a.m. EST). The rocket, satellite, weather and ground systems are still ready for flight.

1607 GMT (1107 EST)

The primary passenger aboard Arianespace Flight 124 is Helios 1B, a European optical reconnaissance spy satellite built by Matra Marconi Space. The craft is the second to be launched under a joint defense program formed between France, Italy and Spain. In addition, the Ariane 40 rocket will place the Clementine secondary payload into space after releasing Helios. See a complete description of both satellites in our Flight 124 cargo preview.

1602 GMT (1102 EST)

Minus 20 minutes. Today's Ariane 4 launch will be a rare event - it is happening in daylight. See a picture of the rocket on the pad from moments ago.

1552 GMT (1052 EST)

Minus 30 minutes. The final countdown for today's launch began 0152 GMT (8:52 p.m. EST yesterday). Earlier this morning the mobile service structure was rolled away from the Ariane 40 atop the ELA-2 launch pad. About three hours ago, launch crews began loading cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen into the rocket's third stage. The first and second stages were fueled with storable propellants on Thursday.

1542 GMT (1042 EST)

Countdown clocks are inside 40 minutes to the scheduled liftoff time for Arianespace Flight 124. There are no problems being worked and the launch team reports the rocket, payloads and weather conditions are go for flight.

1425 GMT (0925 EST)

Arianespace is less than two hours away from today's launch of an Ariane 4 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana in South America. Officials says the countdown is on schedule for liftoff at 1622 GMT (11:22 a.m. EST).

As detailed in our launch preview earlier this week, the Ariane 4 rocket family is poised to complete its 50th consecutive success today, if the mission goes as planned. The successful string would set a new record in the commercial launch industry.

2330 GMT (1830 EST)

All systems are reported go for Friday's launch of Arianespace Flight 124. Officials have cleared an Ariane 40 rocket for launch carrying the Helios 1B and Clementine reconnaissance satellites. Liftoff remains scheduled for 1622 GMT (11:22 a.m. EST), the opening of a 20-minute window. The final countdown is slated to begin in a few hours at 0152 GMT.

1701 GMT (1201 EST)

The launch readiness review is scheduled for today in Kourou, French Guiana, to clear an Ariane 40 rocket, its French Ministry of Defence payloads and the range for Friday's planned launch. The meeting of top-level officials will review the status of all elements of the launch and mission. The meeting will conclude, if no problems are raised, by giving the command to begin arming the rocket and preparing to load storable propellants aboard the first and second stages.

Liftoff remains targeted to occur at 1622 GMT on Friday (11:22 a.m. EST), the opening of a 20-minute window.

0501 GMT (0001 EST)

Arianespace officials will hold a launch rehearsal today for Friday's planned flight of an Ariane 40 rocket for the French Ministry of Defence. The Helios 1B and Clementine satellites will be trucked into a polar sunsynchronous orbit following liftoff from Kourou, French Guiana. A 20-minute launch window will open at 1622 GMT on Friday (11:22 a.m. EST).

Tomorrow the traditional Launch Readiness Review, or RAL, will be held to determine if the rocket, payload, launch range and other elements to the mission are prepared for flight. If there are no significant concerns, the "go" will be given for rocket arming and first and second stage propellant loading. The fueling operation is scheduled for Thursday.

If all goes as scheduled, the final countdown will begin at 0152 GMT on Friday (8:52 p.m. EST on Thursday). As the hours tick off until liftoff, the 321-foot tall gantry enclosing the rocket at the ELA-2 launch complex will be retracted beginning at 1027 GMT (5:27 a.m. EST). Loading of super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen into the Ariane's third stage will commence at 1247 GMT (7:47 a.m. EST). The launch team will activate the rocket's telemetry, radar transponders and telecommand systems at 1517 GMT (10:17 a.m. EST). If there are no problems standing in the way of an on-time launch, officials will allow the Synchronized Launch Sequence to begin at Launch Minus-6 minutes. This computer-controlled process performs the final tasks to prepate the rocket for launch.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 40
Payloads: Helios 1B and Clementine
Launch date: Dec. 3, 1999
Launch window: 1622-1642 GMT (1122-1142 EST)
Launch site: ELA-2, Kourou, French Guina

Video vault
Ariane V124 lifts off carrying into orbit the Helios 1B reconnaissance satellite into polar orbit.
  PLAY (999k QuickTime file; courtesy Arianespace)

Download QuickTime 4 software to view this file.

Pre-launch briefing
Learn more about the mission and the satellites.

Flight 124 preview - read a description of mission.

Flight 124 cargo - overviews of French Helios 1B and Clementine satellites.

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