Ariane 5 reaches milestone 25th straight launch success
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: June 12, 2008
The Ariane 5 booster rocketed into space from a French Guiana launch pad minutes after sunset Thursday, painting a colorful spectacle in the sky en route to space with a British military communications satellite and a Turkish broadcasting spacecraft.
An earlier launch attempt was halted on May 30 due to a software glitch. Arianespace and contractor engineers spent nearly two weeks studying the problem before clearing the rocket for launch this week.
The 166-foot-tall rocket rolled east from the launch pad and flew through a mostly clear sky, climbing into sunlight about one-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The sun illuminated the smoky exhaust from the rocket's twin solid rocket boosters, producing a blend of pink, red and white colors high above the European-controlled spaceport.
Nearly 25 minutes into the mission, the Ariane 5's cryogenic upper stage shut down after reaching an orbit stretching from an altitude of 155 miles to a high point of 22,327 miles. The orbit was inclined two degrees to the equator, according to an Arianespace statement.
Separation of the British Skynet 5C military communications satellite occurred on time about 27 minutes after launch. The upper stage deployed the Turksat 3A broadcasting craft a few minutes later, wrapping up the Ariane 5's 25th consecutive successful mission since 2003.
The Ariane 5 launched more than 390,000 pounds of payloads to space during the five-year period, including 45 primary passengers and nine piggyback satellites, according to statistics provided by Arianespace.
Skynet 5C is bound for geosynchronous orbit, where it will be permanently located along the equator at 17.8 degrees west longitude. The 10,225-pound spacecraft will enter service later this summer after a battery of in-orbit tests, according to project officials.
Test engineers will hand control of the satellite over to Paradigm Secure Communications Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS Astrium, the craft's prime contractor. Skynet 5C's mission is expected to last up to 15 years.
Paradigm operates the satellite communications system for the U.K. Ministry of Defense under a contract worth $7 billion. Paradigm welcomed the Skynet 5A and Skynet 5B satellites to the fleet during two launchings last year.
"Astrium Satellites built the three Eurostar 3000 Skynet 5 satellites and delivered them on time, and in fact early in the case of 5B and 5C, to an original schedule that was set eight years ago, so that's a great achievement," said Patrick Wood, Skynet 5 program director at Paradigm.
"Triple success for us tonight, and I would like to thank the teams for this," Wood said.
EADS Astrium affiliates not only built and operate the Skynet 5 system, but Astrium Space Transportation leads contractor teams manufacturing the Ariane 5 rocket.
"Tonight, these three capabilities were at play to serve our customers, and we are extremely proud of it," Wood said.
Skynet 5C carries an X-band communications payload to reach military users throughout a large swath of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Equipped with 24 super-high-frequency and UHF channels, the satellite will serve as an orbital relay station for secure jam-resistant voice, video and digital communications between commanders and troops deployed around the world.
The Skynet system is part of an international alliance formed with the communications satellite fleets of the French and Italian militaries. The coalition won a contract in 2004 to deliver secure communications services to NATO through 2019.
Skynet satellites have also provided communications services to forces in the Netherlands, Portugal, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, and the United States, according to Paradigm.
Turksat 3A is beginning a 15-year mission to broadcast television services into homes across Turkey, Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. The 6,856-pound spacecraft will be stationed in geosynchronous orbit at 42 degrees east longitude.
Engineers could finish testing and declare Turksat 3A operational in a few weeks, said Jean-Marie Robert, head of telecommunications satellite programs at Thales Alenia Space, Turksat 3A's builder.
The satellite is outfitted with 24 switchable Ku-band transponders to transmit programming between Europe and Asia for Turksat, Turkey's only satellite operator.
Turksat 3A will take the place of Turksat 1C, a 12-year-old spacecraft beyond its original life expectancy. The new satellite will reach a larger portion of Asia and the Middle East than its predecessor.
Other missions for Turksat 3A include providing multimedia and Internet services to the company's customers.
"Turksat 3A is a strategic addition to the Turksat fleet since it will expand the operator's scope of services," said Reynald Seznec, president and CEO of Thales Alenia Space.
Arianespace's next launch, set for July 4, is just three weeks away. The launch provider is aiming to complete seven Ariane 5 launches this year, with a goal to reach a pace of eight flights per year beginning in 2009.