Spaceflight Now: Mission Report

Success for Ariane 5 rocket launch of two satellites

Posted: September 15, 2000

The Ariane 506 rocket launches Astra 2B and GE-7 satellites from French Guiana. Photos: Arianespace
Europe's next-generation Ariane 5 rocket sailed through its third successful commercial launching Thursday, lofting a pair of communications satellites during a clockwork flight.

The 746-ton rocket blasted off on schedule at 2254 GMT (6:54 p.m. EDT) from the ELA-3 pad in Kourou, French Guiana, located in the jungle of northeastern South America.

Darting through clouds, the powerful booster climbed into the nighttime sky with earth-shaking precision, and accurately injected its cargo into orbit less than a half-hour later.

The first satellite passenger deployed, some 28 1/2 minutes into the flight, was the Astra 2B direct-to-home television broadcasting spacecraft that will serve the British Isles and other parts of Europe. Astra 2B was built by Astrium in France for Luxembourg-based Societe Europeenne des Satellites, Europe's leading satellite operator. The new craft will become the 10th in SES' orbital network.

Around nine minutes later, or 38 minutes after liftoff, the second payload was released from the Ariane 5 rocket's upper stage. Built by Lockheed Martin for Princeton, New Jersey's GE Americom, the GE-7 telecommunications satellite will cover the entire United States and Caribbean. The craft will add to GE Americom's current 12-satellite fleet, providing cable TV distribution, business communications services and news gathering.

Data released by Arianespace indicated the Ariane 5, making its sixth flight, did the job by delivering the satellites into the correct geosynchronous transfer orbit. The orbit achieved has a perigee, or low point, of 559.9 km, which is exactly as predicted. The apogee, or high point, is 35,926 km. The predicted was 35,939 km, but well within the margin of error of 160 km. The inclination was 6.99 degrees, or .01-degree better than planned.

Speaking to a crowd of guests after the launch, Arianespace chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Luton said: "It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I announce to you the success of Ariane 5."

"The success of this third commercial launch of Ariane 5 in less than a year is extremely significant," he continued. "It demonstrates that we have a next-generation heavy-lift launch vehicle that is highly performing and perfectly operational."

Luton's comments were aimed squarely at Arianespace's competition in the fierce commercial satellite launch market where Boeing and Lockheed Martin are designing new rockets -- the Delta 4 and Atlas 5 -- to launch larger payloads. When the American boosters start flying in over the next two years, they will compete directly with Ariane 5, which made its inaugural flight in 1996.

Arianespace also goes head-to-head currently with the Sea Launch Zenit and Russian Proton rockets.

The two satellites launched Thursday will both maneuver themselves into circular geostationary orbit high above the Earth's equator. Astra 2B will be positioned at 28.5 degrees East over Central Africa; GE-7 will be parked at 137 degrees West over the Pacific Ocean to replace the aging Satcom C1 spacecraft.

The launch came just eight days since Arianespace's last flight. The next mission is planned for early October when an Ariane 42L rocket is due to launch the Japanese N-SAT-110 telecommunications satellite for Space Communications Corp. and JCSat Corp. The next Ariane 5 is expected around November 3 with a primary cargo still to be confirmed, along with the Phase 3D amateur radio satellite and pair of small research craft.

Arianespace now has a backlog of 46 launch contracts, including 37 satellites and nine cargo missions to the international space station.

Flight data file
Vehicle: Ariane 5
Payload: Astra 2B & GE-7
Launch date: Sept. 14, 2000
Launch window: 2254-2349 GMT (6:54-7:49 p.m. EDT)
Launch site: ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana

Pre-launch Briefing
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of the events to occur during launch.

Track - A map shows the typical orbital track an Ariane 5 follows to space.

Ariane directory - See our previous coverage of Ariane rocket launches.