The last Ariane 5 rocket moved to the launch pad Monday at the Guyana Space Center, European spaceport in South America. Ariane 5, which for years was the world’s leading commercial satellite launcher, is scheduled to lift off on Tuesday carrying a French military satellite and a spacecraft to test communications technology for Germany.
Propelled by a 540-horsepower diesel-powered tractor, the 180-foot (54.8-meter) Ariane 5 rocket was lifted from the final assembly building at the launch site in the jungle and traveled along rails to the ELA-3 launch area. The 1.7-mile (2.7 km) ride took about two hours. With the rocket in place on the pad, technicians will connect the mobile launch table to the ground fuel lines that will feed the rocket with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen during the countdown.
This final mission, designated VA261, is scheduled to take off at a 95-minute launch window that opens at 6:30 p.m. KURU (5:30 p.m. EDT/2130 UTC) on Tuesday. Ariane 5 will carry the Heinrich-Hertz and Syracuse 4B satellites into geostationary transfer orbit from the Guyana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America.
The Syracuse 4B, built by Airbus, will transmit secure communications between French military aircraft, ground vehicles and naval vessels, including submarines. It was built by an industrial consortium formed by Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defense and Space. The Heinrich Hertz satellite, built by OHB, will test new communications technologies in a mission funded by the German space agency DLR. The spacecraft features onboard processors that can be reprogrammed to use new communication protocols as they are developed.
This last mission will be the Ariane 5 rocket’s 117th since its introduction in 1996. The European rocket, marketed by Arianespace, was once dominant in commercial launches, but low-cost launch services from Elon Musk’s SpaceX have made it eroding its location.
The retirement of Ariane 5 would leave Europe for the time being without its own independent access to space. The new Ariane 6 vehicle is not expected to make its inaugural launch until 2024, years later than planned, and the Vega C small satellite launcher has been grounded since the December 2022 failure. In addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ended a collaborative project that launched Soyuz missiles. From the port of French Guiana in Europe.
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