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Ariane 5’s final flight: a success story with a bumpy start

Ariane 5’s final flight: a success story with a bumpy start


Status: 07/06/2023 01:48 AM

The European launch vehicle Ariane 5 has launched for the last time. On board the German satellite “Heinrich Hertz”. Over its almost 30-year history, the rocket has performed many important tasks. review.

By David Beck and Julia Thomas, SWR

The era of the European launch vehicle Ariane 5 ended with the 117th launch. Overnight, the Ariane 5 lifted off from the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana for the last time. is to bring two satellites into space.

A good reason to take a look at the history of Ariane 5 – a history that didn’t start out very successfully.

The first flight of the Ariane V rocket failed

On June 4, 1996, the first Ariane 5 took off from Kourou on its maiden flight. But approximately 40 seconds after the start The rocket exploded over the rainforest. Reason: A programming error caused the data to incorrectly show a sharp change in the missile’s trajectory. The flight computer then initiated an extreme corrective maneuver, during which two boosters ripped the side of the missile and the missile initiated its self-destruct mechanism.

The second start was only half the success. The upper stage of the rocket did not reach full capacity and the satellites on board Ariane 5 entered a very low orbit.

bearer of many scientific missions

After that, however, the success rate rose sharply. Since 1998, Ariane 5 has launched a number of satellites, including important science missions. One of them is “Rashid”. This mission marked the first time a probe had landed on a comet. Since 2018, the BepiColombo probe has been on its way to Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. It is scheduled to arrive there in 2025 and collect information about the planet’s surface, magnetic field and core.

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At the end of 2021, the Ariane 5 aircraft sent the James Webb Space Telescope on its voyage, so accurately and fuel-efficiently that the telescope’s mission runtime could potentially double. And “Goose,” the probe that is supposed to search for signs of life on Jupiter’s icy moons, among other things, was launched safely into space by Ariane 5 in April 2023.

German satellite at last launch

With its final launch, Ariane 5 puts the communications satellites Syracuse 4B and Heinrich Hertz into Earth orbit. Heinrich Hertz is the first communications satellite to be developed entirely in Germany in twenty years. It’s about the size of a minibus and is expected to spend 15 years in space.

During this time, Heinrich Hertz will test new technologies for satellite-assisted communications in space. Because in orbit there is a high level of radiation and temperatures fluctuate between extreme values. It is reported that about 20 experiments on communication technology, antenna and satellite were carried out on board the satellite.

In addition, the “Heinrich Hertz” station will serve as a relay station. It can relay signals from other satellites and thus maintain its communication time with ground stations for a longer period.

The satellite is named after German physicist Heinrich Hertz, who first demonstrated electromagnetic waves in Karlsruhe in 1886 and thus helped modern communications technology make a breakthrough. He is best known for the “Hertz” unit named after him and in which the frequencies were identified.

Smart satellite

The thing about the Heinrich Hertz satellite is that it can be developed further in space – you can reprogram it, so to speak. Normally, the functions of satellites cannot be changed once they have been put into orbit. Heinrich Hertz, for example, could change the transmitting and receiving frequency, reorienting his antennas, and thus adjusting the area over which data could be received and transmitted.

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“With such great flexibility it is also possible, for example, to support disaster scenarios,” says Jens Müller of TU Ilmenau, who helped develop the communications component of the satellite. Take the flood disaster of the Ahr Valley: this is where we first had to complain about the loss of communications structure. “

Ariane 6 will be operational by the end of 2023

The Ariane 5 era ends with the launch of “Heinrich Hertz”, and its successor Ariane 6 should be ready for launch at the end of 2023. According to the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the new rocket should be more powerful, flexible and cheaper than the previous version.

Two different Ariane 6 models were developed to launch both lighter satellites and several smaller satellites into space: one with two and one with four solid boosters. The new carrier rocket should be able to deliver up to 11 tons of payload into geostationary orbit – twice as much as into geostationary orbit. With Ariane 6, the European space community wants to secure its own independent access to space and continue to carry out its own missions for it. Earth’s orbit.