Goodbye Ariane 4: Finale flight for workhorse rocket

Posted: February 14, 2003

Arianespace closed out its venerable Ariane 4 rocket program today with an early morning vault into space that put a shining end to one of the most successful commercial launchers in the history of the industry.

The last Ariane 4 rocket blasts off. Photo: Arianespace TV
Liftoff of the Ariane 44L rocket from the Guiana Space Center's ELA-2 launch zone occurred at 0700 GMT (2:00 a.m. EST) Saturday morning. Launch had been delayed from Wednesday due to prevailing unfavorable winds aloft.

Lighting the skies of the South American jungle, the Ariane 4 roared away from its pad and flew eastward before its cargo was separated a little over 20 minutes after launch.

The Ariane 4 completed its 116th overall flight by placing the Intelsat 907 satellite into its targeted egg-shaped geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high point of 35,880 km for a targeted apogee of 35,788 km, low point of 199.0 km for a targeted 199.8 km and inclination right on the mark at 7.00 degrees.

Placement of the payload into the desired orbit also raised the number of consecutive Ariane 4 successes to 74, a number unmatched by any other booster on the market today.

During 15 years of flights, the Ariane 4 achieved a 97.4 percent success rate while placing 182 primary payloads -- over 400 metric tons -- into space. The Ariane 4 program had over 150 contracts with almost 60 customers.

"Ariane 4 has been Arianespace's legendary launcher. It gave the company a head start and helped it win a leading position in the launching of commercial spacecraft," said Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Le Gall.

"The vehicle, with its payload capacity of five tons, was perfectly adapted for dual launches, when spacecraft had an average mass of two tons. Today, however, spacecraft have grown heavier, and that is why we have decided to focus on the Ariane 5."

Weighing 10,307 pounds this morning at launch, Intelsat 907 will soon undergo a number of systems checks before beginning a process of using thruster firings to slowly raise and circularize the craft's orbit up to geostationary altitude nearly 36,000 km high along the Equator.

There the spacecraft will be maneuvered to a point above the Atlantic Ocean at 27.5 degrees West at the Equator, offering the satellite's suite of communications instruments to relay data between North America, Latin America, Europe, and Africa.

The cargo for Ariane 4's finale -- Intelsat 907 -- is seen here in Kourou during pre-launch preparations with the team. Photo: ESA/CNES/Arianespace
Intelsat 907's array of C-band and Ku-band transponders connected to powerful spot and wide beams can handle high capacities of communications traffic that can include video and audio broadcasting, Internet networking, and other multimedia services.

The newly launched craft is meant to replace the Intelsat 605 spacecraft currently operating in the Atlantic Ocean region. Intelsat 907 is projected to provide about 19 percent more overall capacity than currently available at the 27.5 degrees West orbital slot. Entrance into service for Intelsat 907 is anticipated for late-March.

"The Intelsat 907 will be located in a prime orbital slot to provide Africa with a robust, ever-expanding video community," said Intelsat CEO Conny Kullman.

Being the seventh and final member of the Intelsat 9 series, this newest addition to the Intelsat fleet will join a worldwide constellation of over 20 satellites that serve users in over 200 nations and territories.

Launches of this group of spacecraft began in mid-2001. All told, six of the seven Intelsat 9 craft were lofted into space using Ariane 44L rockets, while Intelsat 903 used the Russian Proton vehicle in 2002.

"The successful launch of the Intelsat 907 represents the completion of our 9 series launches. Launching seven satellites in twenty months is a huge accomplishment for Intelsat and for our customers worldwide who are the beneficiaries of the enhanced coverage and increased power of these spacecraft," said Intelsat CEO Conny Kullman.

A satellite for the Intelsat 10 generation is currently being built for launch a Proton.

The long-planned phase-out of its Ariane 4 launcher leaves Arianespace fully reliant on the Ariane 5 rocket that has a less-than-stellar history with four failures in just fourteen flights since 1996.

The most recent botched Ariane 5 launch came in December when the maiden flight of an upgraded version went out of control minutes after take-off due to cooling system problems in the Vulcain-2 engine.

That failure left all versions of the Ariane 5 grounded indefinitely, but Arianespace officials are hopeful for a return to flight status for the generic configuration next month.

In the meantime, the European space programs will make use out of the now-mothballed ELA-2 launch pad as a storage site for elements of the Vega and Soyuz rockets. Both launchers are expected to join the Ariane 5 in Kourou in the coming years.

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