July 5, 22:00 UTC. For the last time, the two P241 boosters and the Vulcain-2 of the Ariane 5 central stage will unload their power by tearing open the sky of French Guiana.
The long history of the Ariane
It was the French who proposed, in 1973, the name Ariane, borrowed from Greek mythology, for the future European launcher after the failure of the Europe-1 program.
Ariadne (Ariane in French) was the wife of King Minos, of the island of Crete. According to legend, she helped Theseus escape from the labyrinth, and for this, she was associated with the ability to solve puzzles and complex problems. And no name was more appropriate because the long Ariane dynasty had many puzzles to solve.
First of all, the skepticism of part of the program partners regarding the use of hypergolic fuel engines of military derivation, and the costs increased dramatically. To aggravate the situation, there was the loss of many precious payloads, including the Italian Sirio-2.
Fortunately, the program went on, passing through three evolutions of the first Ariane, up to the fifth series, a radically new concept for a launcher of great power and undisputed reliability: 112 successful launches out of 117.
Ariane 5: the great flying tank
If the first three versions of the Ariane were characterized by the long tank of the third stage, a bit like the long neck that distinguished the works of the Italian painter Modigliani, with Ariane 5, we pass to a structure which, in some ways, recalls that of the Soviet launcher Energia or that of the Space Shuttle: A large central stage, single-engine, with two lateral boosters.
Having gone through five versions, we arrived at the current one, called ECA+, which allows the European launcher to carry 10,865 kg in GTO, the geostationary orbit. A capability is comparable to the Russian Proton, the Chinese Long March-5, and the Indian GSLV-MkIII.
Driven by the mighty French Vulcain engine, also a name borrowed from mythology, a traditional but reliable gas-generator engine powered by liquid oxygen and hydrogen, the central stage develops a power of 130 t. in the void.
The two P241 solid fuel side boosters develop a power of 5400 kN and are partially recoverable: as for the Space Shuttle SRBs, they can be equipped with parachutes for subsequent recovery in the ocean.
The payload of the last mission
This last flight will carry two satellites in geostationary orbit: Syracuse 4-B and Heinrich Hertz.
In the first case, it is a military satellite built in Italy by Thales, intended for the French Army to restore the old Syracuse 3a and 3b. They are telecommunications satellites operating in the X and KA band, resistant to electromagnetic interference and disturbance.
Heinrich Hertz, or H2Sat, is an experimental German satellite for use by research institutions in Germany. It will serve to test new forms of telecommunications from Space to Earth, particularly in the field of coverage on mobile devices. Given the strategic importance, the German Ministry of Defence supports part of the investment.
The future: Ariane 6
Ariadne will not leave us; its story will continue with the new Ariane 6, which should make its maiden flight in January 2024 carrying the ViaSat-3 satellite.
We can’t wait to see the debut of this new, elegant European lady.