Astrium successfully completes 50th consecutive Ariane 5 launch

02 August 2012

  • Astrium is the prime contractor for Ariane 5, the world’s most reliable commercial launcher in service today
  • Ariane Flight 208 placed a world record 10.2 tonnes in geostationary transfer orbit, 130 kg more than the previous record, at the same cost
  • Two new flight computers were deployed, increasing the performance of the European launcher’s “nerve centre”

Astrium, Europe’s leading space technology company, has completed the 50th consecutive successful launch of Ariane 5, extending its existing world record for launchers currently in service.

This flight is the first to feature two new flight computers. Offering four times more memory and 10 times faster computing power, the computers enhance the launcher’s flight reliability and responsiveness.

The launch also set a new world record for geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) payload capacity of nearly 10.2 tonnes, 130 kg more than the previous record. The two satellites respectively weighed 6,100 kg and 3,300 kg, in addition to the remaining weight of the transponders and the SYLDA dual launch system, some 780 kg.

“Without this steady increase in the capacity of Ariane 5, it would not have been possible to send these two satellites into orbit in a single launch,” said a delighted Michel Freuchet, Astrium Space Transportation’s Director of Launchers. “We’re not going to stop here either. When Ariane 5 ME becomes operational in 2017, the European launcher will be capable of placing more than 12 tonnes in geostationary orbit.”

Since Astrium became the prime contractor in 2003 and thanks to investments by the company, its payload capacity has increased from an initial GTO capacity of 9.4 tonnes to 10.2 tonnes today. Moreover, Ariane 5 continues to place in low-Earth orbit the heaviest items ever sent into space, among them the International Space Station’s European Automated Transfer Vehicle, the ATV, which alone weighs more than 20 tonnes. Not only is Europe’s Ariane 5 the most reliable commercial launcher on the world market, it also has the largest payload capacity. As with every launch, Astrium’s control centre near Paris supervised a team of 150 people who analysed flight parameters remotely from Europe. It is their job to advise, in real time, the three Astrium managers based in Kourou on the mission’s risks and chances of success. These three managers (the Ariane 5 Development Manager, Production Manager and Technical Director) have the final say in decisions relating to the flight.

“This 50th consecutive successful launch of Ariane 5 would not have been possible without the commitment of Astrium’s teams, our partners and our suppliers,” said Astrium Space Transportation CEO Alain Charmeau. “Each launch represents a new challenge requiring more than 600 inspection phases, the involvement of more than 4,500 people in 12 countries across Europe and more than a million working hours.”

To see an animated presentation of the history of Astrium and Ariane (you can select by year or by Ariane version, and see all the payloads for which Astrium was also prime contractor), go to the internet site

About Astrium

Astrium is the number one company in Europe for space technologies and the third in the world. In 2011, Astrium had a turnover close to €5 billion and 18,000 employees worldwide, mainly in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands. Astrium is the sole European company that covers the whole range of civil and defence space systems and services.

Its three business units are: Astrium Space Transportation for launchers and orbital infrastructure; Astrium Satellites for spacecraft and ground segment; Astrium Services for comprehensive fixed and mobile end-to-end solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security and broadcast satellite communications equipment and systems, and bespoke geo-information services, worldwide.

Astrium is a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2011, the Group – comprising Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 49.1 billion and employed a workforce of over 133,000.

For reminder:

Ariane launcher records

The tallest Ariane: The record is still held by an Ariane 4 equipped with a medium cone and a SPELDA short dual-launch external carrier structure. At 60.13 m high, it exceeded the tallest version of the Ariane 5 (ECA + long cone) by about 4.23 m. This configuration was only used once, for Flight 61 in 1993, before the short cones and mini-SPELDA became the standard for dual launches on Ariane 4.

Heavy weight category: In over 200 flights, Ariane launchers have placed more than 800 tons of payload in orbit – or more than the launch weight of an Ariane 5 ECA. The total weight of the Ariane vehicles launched from French Guiana is more than 90,000 tons, equivalent to the weight of the Eiffel Tower, or of two fully-equipped "Charles de Gaulle" aircraft carriers. The largest payload ever placed in orbit by an Ariane launch vehicle was the "Johannes Kepler" ATV-2 vehicle (20.1 tons), on flight 200 (Ariane 5 ES).

Reliability: During its operating life, Ariane 4 made 74 successful launches. 116 missions achieved a reliability of 97.4%. With 50 successful consecutive launches, the Ariane 5 family can claim reliability of more than 97% (excluding qualification flights).

Altitude and speed: The maximum speed reached by an Ariane launcher is 10,410 m/s (or 37,476 km/h), a record set by an Ariane 5G+, during Flight 158, when the Rosetta probe was injected into interplanetary orbit. At that speed, 33 seconds would be enough to travel the distance from London to Paris (343 km). The highest apogee (during a non-interplanetary flight) was achieved by the Herschel and Planck telescopes, on Flight 188 aboard an Ariane 5 ECA. The furthest point in their orbit from Earth was 1,193,622 km, or three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Apart from the sub-orbital flight by the Atmospheric Re-Entry Demonstrator (ARD), the lowest perigee was achieved on Flight 137, with 180 km (record held by the last Ariane 44P).

The highest perigee is 1,322 km, or about the distance from Brussels to Madrid, achieved on Flight 52, when an Ariane 4 placed the Franco-American Topex altimetry satellite into orbit.

Press contacts:

Jeremy Close
Media Relations UK
Astrium United Kingdom
Tel.: +44 1 438 77 3872
Gregory Gavroy
Astrium France
Media Relations France
Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32
Ralph Heinrich
Media Relations Germany
Airbus Defence and Space Germany
Tel.: +49 89 60 73 39 71
Fax: +49 89 60 78 53 39
Francisco Lechon
Media Relations Spain
Airbus Defence and Space Spain
Tel.: +34 91 5 86 37 41
Fax: +34 91 5 86 37 82


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