22 Years, 2 Months, and 100 Launches of Ariane 5

It’s Sunday, September 23rd, and we are two days away from the planned launch of Ariane launch VA243: the one-hundreth Ariane 5 flight.

On a summer’s day over two decades ago, June 4th 1996, I was present in the control room for the first ever flight of Ariane 5. Now, 22 years and 100 launches later, I’m going back into the very same room to witness Ariane 5’s 100th launch. This time, the passengers are two telecom satellites: Horizon 3 (Intelsat-JSAT) and Azerspace/Intersat 38. This launch campaign started back in spring, and the launch date was set for May 25th. However, in April, a day before one of the satellites were supposed to arrive, they announced that they have to go back to India for some tests.

We were tight on time already, even for the planned May 25th launch date, because the exciting new ESA satellite BepiColombo was being  prepared for its arrival to CSG… 4 Antonov planes loaded with material were moving in for a 7 month stay, which meant there would not be any place for any late-returning satellites.

The launcher continued its campaign, and on June 4th, the first part was done. It was moved from the integration building to the final assembly building to make space for the following Ariane 5 VA 244 that was going to be used for Galileo on July 25th.  On July 4th, one month later, VA 244 was ready to be mated with the satellites at the Final Assembly Building — that meant VA243 was getting kicked out, meaning we have to do something called a double transfer. That day, VA 243 was first moved from the Final Assembly Building to the launch pad where it patiently waited whilst VA 244 moved from the Launcher Integration Building to the Final Assembly Building, allowing VA243 to move into the newly-vacated Launcher Integration Building. This is possible since we have two launch tables for Ariane 5, and the launcher is erected on “its” table where it stays on it until it is launched.

In case this is all Greek to you, there is a diagram below showing the different buildings/areas. 

One goes from Final Assembly to Launch Pad, then the other goes from Launcher Integration to Final Assembly, so the first can go from Launch Pad to Launcher Integration… easy, right?

With BepiColombo installed from April 24th to August 31st, another passenger needed to be found that did could fit the new needs, and the new configuration was Horizon 3 and Azerspace. Azerspace arrived on August 6th, with Horizon 3 only two days later.

If all of this wasn’t enough, all the while we were preparing for VA243, preparations were also ongoing for VV21 and the Aeolus launch on August 21st (which then became August 22nd due to weather). BepiColombo is planned for October 19th and MetOp-C is planned for November 6th, which means it’s busy times for ESA and CSG with satellites and teams occupying all available spaces plus a few temporary bungalows!

Charlotte Beskow

Head of the ESA Space Transportation Office in Kourou

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