Ariane 5 takes final flight, leaves Europe without its own heavy-lift rocket • The Register

On Tuesday July 4, the last Ariane 5 rocket will blast off from the Gauro spacecraft in French Guiana. During the rocket’s red glare, Europe will be without a heavy rocket for the first time in decades, and no reusable rocket.

It will be a very independent day for ArianeGroup, Europe’s domestic rocketry business. Given that the first Ariane 6 rocket has been in development since 2014, it may need to buy launches from US-based SpaceX for a while. And it can be delayed – basic mechanical tests Still ongoing.

„Europe … finds itself today in a severe missile crisis with a (albeit temporary) gap in its own access to space and no real launcher vision beyond 2030,” said Joseph Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency. warned In May.

Ariane 5 has been the workhorse of European orbital delivery for almost 30 years, albeit with some problems at first. The first launch, on June 4, 1996, was aborted after it was diverted by faulty software. Since then, Rocket has had a success rate of over 95 percent.

The venerable vehicle has achieved 111 successful launches out of a total of 116 launches. When the James Webb Space Telescope launched last Christmas, NASA said. Register Ariane 5 was chosen as a „safe pair of hands,” nearly a million miles from home, for the delivery of the instrument.

Although reliable, the Ariane 5 was relatively expensive to start up, slow to set up and could only be used once. By comparison, SpaceX has lifted 180 Falcon 9 rockets since 2018. In many cases, apart from the odd „quick unplanned disassembly”, this involved recovering and reusing the first stage of the booster, which accounted for about 70 percent of the vehicle’s cost. .

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„The SpaceX launcher has undeniably changed the market paradigm,” explained Aschbacher.

„With the dependable reliability of Falcon 9 and the captivating possibilities of Starship, SpaceX continues to completely redefine the world’s access to space, pushing the boundaries of possibility as they go. Once successful, Starship will carry payloads of around 100 tons to low Earth. It reduces the cost of launching into orbit tenfold. Falcon 9 It aims to launch 100 times by 2023.”

Meanwhile, ArianeSpace’s other rocket, the lightweight Vega-C, has yet to land. A failed launch in December 2022 resulted in a nasty rocket nozzle problem that caused the most expensive hardware to fall into the Atlantic. It is expected to fly again in the next few months, but has a small payload capacity compared to its competitors.

ESA has already begun using SpaceX’s instrument, sending the Euclid satellite on Saturday, and has confirmed other missions in the short term. With sanctions over Ukraine’s illegal occupation halting Russian orbital delivery cards, ESA and other European customers have had to do the heavy lifting for the United States. is the European Union is reported A contract with SpaceX seeks to fill the gap in service.

Unknown pleasures

The Ariane 6 heavy rocket has been in development for a decade and is not yet ready, but should be a reliable workhorse for years to come, Aschbacher suggested.

It already has 25 planned payloads, but it still has a long way to go to be the reliable and trustworthy platform that its predecessor was. New rocket designs are prone to accidents and the first few launches are closely watched.

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Ariane 6 is still a single-use vehicle and can resupply the International Space Station. A two-stage rocket is capable of an impressive amount of lift, but none of the cost savings you get from reusable rockets. SpaceX’s Starship is close to surpassing every other commercial rocket on the planet.

That’s not to say ArianeSpace doesn’t have ideas on the reuse front. It is currently developing a smart upper stage for innovative research (Susie), a reusable spacecraft that sits atop Ariane 6. Susie is designed to support the return mission to the Moon by carrying five astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station and into lunar orbit.

Wake up little Susie. Source: ESA – Click to enlarge

Initial designs will be automated cargo delivery vehicles, but crewed missions will be planned later. The spacecraft is designed to return to Earth by skimming – using a Lifting body design A vertical rocket travels through the atmosphere at Mach 25 before expanding its aerodynamic surfaces to reach a safe speed for landing, carrying seven tons of cargo.

Susi provides an obvious role for Ariane 6, but there is still a lot of development to be done to the basic design before it can consider putting humans on board. Meanwhile, SpaceX, Boeing and other companies have their own designs for such crafts.

Ariane 5 may be on its last launch pad, but it has had an impressive career by hitting a sweet spot in the market for orbital delivery. Its successor faces a much tougher journey. ®

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