Spaceflight Insider

Ariane 5 launches Intelsat 29e on first Arianespace flight of 2016

An Arianespace Ariane 5 lifts off from the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana in May of 2009. Photo Credit: Photo Optique CSG ESA / Arianespace

Archive photo of an Ariane 5 launch. Photo Credit: Photo Optique CSG / ESA / Arianespace

The skies above Guiana Space Centre’s launch pad ELA-3 came to life at 6:20 p.m. EST (23:20 GMT) on Jan. 27 with the thunderous roar and blinding light of an Ariane 5 breaking its Earthly bonds and accelerating skyward.

The mission, designated VA228, successfully inserted the Intelsat 29e satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) headed for an operational geostationary orbit at 50 degrees west longitude above North and South America. The Intelsat 29e is the first in the company’s line of Intelsat EpicNG next-generation high throughput satellites and is described as having one of the most advanced digital payloads commercially available.

Boeing Intelsat 9E Image Credit Intelsat posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Intelsat 29e was produced by aerospace giant Boeing. Photo Credit: Boeing

This mission differed from usual Ariane 5 launches in that the Intelsat 29e rode to orbit in the Système de Lancement Double Ariane (SYLDA) payload carrier as the heavy-lift launcher’s only passenger.

The massive 173-foot-tall (53-meter) rocket was rolled out to the Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 3, or ELA3, on Thursday, April 23, and was promptly fitted to the various communication arrays, sensors, and fuel pumps at the pad.

This site is specially outfitted for the Ariane 5 family of rockets and it is where the final stage of launch preparations took place. Here, the rocket’s main cryogenic stage had its tanks filled with about 175 tonnes of propellant—150 tonnes of liquid oxygen and 25 tonnes of liquid hydrogen—on the day of launch.

The Ariane 5 is a two-stage booster, comprised of the Etage Principal Cryotechnique (EPC)—Cryotechnic Main Stage—which is powered by a Vulcain 2 rocket engine, and two Étages d’Accélération à Poudre (EAP ) solid rocket boosters.

The two EAPs are capable of producing a total of 2.43 million pounds (10.8 million newtons) of thrust—92 percent of the thrust required to carry out the mission.

The upper stage of the rocket is comprised of the Etage Superieur Cryotechnique  (ESC)—Cryogenic Upper Stage—powered by an Aestus rocket engine which is capable of being restarted. The upper stage also houses the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB) which carries the Intelsat 29e in the SYLDA payload carrier. The launcher carried a total payload of 14,771 pounds (6,700 kilograms).

Ariane5 EAP

The Ariane 5 has two Etage d’Acceleration à Poudre (EAP) boosters strapped to the side of the rocket. Each is 101 feet (31 meters) tall and together produce 92 percent of the thrust required to reach orbit. Photo Credit: Photo Optique CSG / ESA / Arianespace

As the countdown reached zero, the Vulcain 2 engine, named after the Roman god of fire, roared to life, putting out over 300,000 pounds (1,359 kilonewtons) of thrust. Approximately seven seconds after ignition of the main engine, the onboard computers, sensing that all was well with the Vulcain 2, sent an activation command to the two EAP solid rocket boosters—bringing them to life and lifting the rocket off the pad and into the skies above the Amazon.

Seventeen seconds into the mission, the Ariane 5 began to roll into the correct flight path to take it on the correct trajectory out of the atmosphere and into orbit.

After two minutes and 24 seconds of powered flight, the two EAP solid rocket boosters separated from the main stage, shedding 1.21 million pounds (550 tonnes) of the total weight of the Ariane 5.

Three minutes into the flight, with the rocket most of the way out of Earth’s atmosphere, the protective fairing was jettisoned, shedding an additional 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) off of the main stage. After about eight minutes of flight at 6:28 p.m. EST (23:28 GMT), the Vulcain 2 engine was shut down and the ETC main stage was separated from the ESC upper stage. A minute later, the ESC’s Aestus engine came to life, marking the final stage of the mission as the ESC brought Intelsat 29e closer to (GTO).

Twenty-four minutes into the mission, the ESC ends its thrust phase bringing the Intelsat 29e satellite into insertion range of its target geostationary orbit. Five minutes later, the Intelsat 29e was successfully released from SYLDA, marking the end of a successful first mission of 2016 for Arianespace.

Fielding a fleet of about 50 satellites, Intelsat is working to provide high-performance connectivity services for media, fixed and mobile broadband communications. These would be used by business, government, and military customers.

This was the 56th Intelsat satellite to be launched by Arianespace, with two more satellites scheduled to launch in 2016. Built by Boeing using a 702MP platform, this will also be the 51st Boeing satellite launched by Arianespace.

“Boeing’s digital satellite technology enables Intelsat to shift bandwidth to where it’s needed most over the life of the satellite, enabling their customers to rapidly adapt and meet changing market demands,” Mark Spiwak, president, Boeing Satellite Systems International, said in a press release following the launch.

Arianespace and Intelsat have a long relationship going back to the launch of the Intelsat 507 spacecraft in October of 1983. Half of all Intelsat’s satellites currently in operation were launched by the company.

This mission marks the first in a busy year for Arianespace, as the company sets an objective of 11 launches, including as many as eight by the Ariane 5. The next Ariane 5 launch, designated VA229, will be carrying the Eutelsat 65 West A communications satellite. It is scheduled for no earlier than Feb. 28.

Video courtesy of Arianespace


College student and long time space enthusiast, Jose has been a constant visitor to Cape Canaveral since he moved to central Florida. He joined the SFI team in the hopes of becoming more involved in the coverage of spaceflight and space exploration.

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