Preparations are well underway for the qualification flight of Europe’s latest launcher, the Ariane-5 ECA, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The launch window opens on the evening of 11 February at 16:49 (20:49 CET) and will extend until 18:10 (22:10 CET). Ariane-5 ECA will be able to place heavy payloads of up to 10 tonnes into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) in comparison to the 6-tonne payloads placed into GTO by the Ariane-5 Generic launchers. The increased performance of the Ariane 5 ECA is due to two main differences:
* a more powerful Vulcain-2 first stage engine developed from the Ariane-5 generic Vulcain 1 engine
* a cryogenic upper stage (ESCA) using the tried and tested Ariane-4 HM7B engine that made over 130 successful launches
Since the failure of the first Ariane 5 ECA Flight in December 2002, the Vulcain-2 nozzle extension has been redesigned and tested, and an exhaustive review of the whole launcher has been conducted. Flight 164 will carry three payloads on its journey into space:
* an XTAR-EUR telecommunications satellite: to be placed into GTO
* Sloshsat-FLEVO, an experimental mini-satellite to investigate the dynamics of fluids in weightlessness, jointly developed by ESA and NIVR, the Dutch Agency for Aerospace Programmes: to be placed into GTO
* Maqsat B2 telemetry/video imaging package: to remain mated to the upper stage of the launcher for recording flight data
A successful rehearsal of the entire launch countdown – including final fuelling and countdown but stopping short of ignition – took place on 12 January. This enabled mission team members to validate launch procedures, and test all launcher equipment and ground facilities.
Thorough checks of all stages of the launcher and payloads are now ongoing in the Final Assembly Building to be ready for the final launch readiness review to be held on 9 February, two days before liftoff. If all goes well, it will then be ‘all systems go’ for an 11 February launch.