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The 35th anniversary of the first Ariane flight

on 24 December 2014

The space community is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the first Ariane flight, on 24 December 1979, which made the ambition of European access to space a reality.

Ariane, a reward for the combined efforts of the institutional and industrial actors – local, national and intergovernmental alike, has symbolised for nearly four decades the successful pooling of the capabilities of the Member States of Europe’s space organisations.

How Ariane was born

Between 1964 and 1971, ELDO (European Launcher Development Organisation), composed of six Member States, performed 11 launches, seven of which were partial.

Europa I was formed by combining a British Blue Streak first stage, a French Coralie second stage and a German Astris third stage. These three stages were tested together for the first time on 29 November 1968. The next two launch attempts, from the Woomera test range in Australia, like the previous, ended in disappointment.

Also the launch from Kourou of Europa II with its additional fourth (P068) stage on 5 November 1971, had failed, and it was only a matter of months before a configuration for the third-generation launcher had been defined. The proposal was presented at the sixth European Space Conference (ESC) in Brussels on 20 December 1972, when the ministers concluded an agreement in principle: on the one hand they would abandon the Europa III programme to focus instead on a new launcher, and on the other, they would form a single, unified European space agency.

An optimised configuration called L140-L33-H8 (LIIS) was presented on 10 May 1973. The launcher was scheduled to be available as of 1980, and the programme would be managed within a common European framework. Contracts were allocated to firms from the participating states in proportion to their contribution to the amount of the works.

Ariane was formally ‘christened’ at the 93rd meeting of ESRO’s Administrative and Finance Committee (AFC) in Bern on 27–28 September 1973.

Ariane: a new age in space exploration for Europe

Ariane 6

The first Ariane launcher blasted into the sky on Christmas Eve, 1979. Ariane 1 was designed primarily to put two telecommunications satellites at a time into orbit, thus reducing costs. As the size of the satellites grew Ariane 1 began to give way to the more powerful Ariane 2 and Ariane 3 launchers.

Altogether, 11 successful Ariane 1 launches took place between 1979 and 1986, and five successful Ariane 2 flights between 1987 and 1989. Ariane 3 made 11 flights from 1984 to 1989, all of which were successful.

Ariane 4 was justly known as the ‘workhorse’ of the Ariane family. Since its first flight on 15 June 1988 until the last, on 15 February 2003, it made 113 successful launches. The Ariane 4 proved ideal for launching communications and Earth observation satellites as well as those for scientific research.

During its working life, Ariane 4 captured 50% of the market in launching commercial satellites, showing that Europe can more than hold its own in the commercial launch field.

Ariane 5 is the cornerstone of Europe’s independent access to space. Its reliability, availability and affordability are based on a strategy where a significant part of the exploitation costs is financed through commercial activity.

Ariane 5 is launched six to seven times a year, of which only one or two are for institutional customers. Ariane 5 was a major evolution for the Ariane family. It is more powerful and uses more advanced technologies.

Image: Ariane 6

Looking toward the future

At the November 2012 ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in Naples, Italy, Ministers secured investments for detailed definition studies of the new Ariane 6 launcher and the continuation of the development of Ariane 5 ME Adapted, with the goal of developing as many commonalities as possible between the two vehicles.

The overarching aim of Ariane 6 is to provide guaranteed access to space for Europe at a competitive price without requiring public sector support for exploitation.

Romania also joined the optional ESA program regarding the development of the newest rocket Ariane 6, following the ESA Ministerial Council which took place on 2 December 2014.




Image credit: ESA / D.Ducros