Spaceflight Insider

Ariane 5 launches Echostar 18 and BRIsat satellites into orbit

Liftoff of Ariane 5 flight VA230

Ariane 5 flight VA230 lifts off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana with two satellites, EchoStar-18 and BRIsat, toward their planned orbits. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: Arianespace

After a delay of just over one week and two scrubbed attempts, Guiana Space Centre‘s launch pad ELA-3 came to life at 5:38 p.m. EDT (21:38 GMT) for the third time in 2016 as an Ariane 5, carrying the EchoStar 18 and BRIsat communications satellites, raced into the late afternoon sky on June 18.

The launch was initially scheduled for June 8, but it was delayed until June 16 due to a problem with a fluid connector between the cryogenic upper stage and the launch table during the rollout to the launch pad. The second delay of 24 hours occurred because of an “umbilical connection-related anomaly” while the rocket was undergoing rollout operations. A further 24-hour delay was due to “unfavorable weather conditions” above the Spaceport in French Guiana.

Liftoff of Ariane 5 flight VA230

Ariane 5 flight VA230 soars into the air. Photo Credit: Arianespace

The mission, designated VA230, broke the record for a total payload weight orbited by an Ariane 5 ECA launcher during one flight as it lifted its payload—weighing in at 10.73 metric tons—into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

The satellites, EchoStar 18 for U.S.-based DISH Network and BRIsat for Indonesian-based company Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI), were both built by California-based Space Systems Loral (SSL). They were inserted to their respective geostationary orbits at 110 degrees west and 150.5 degrees east, respectively. The previous record, set by VA212, lifted off Feb. 7, 2013, with its cargo weighing in at 10.5 metric tons.

The massive 179-foot (54.8-meter) tall rocket was rolled out to the Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 3 (ELA3) Tuesday, June 7, and was promptly fitted with 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. At this location, the rocket’s main cryogenic stage had its tanks filled with about 175 metric tons of propellant—150 metric tons of liquid oxygen and 25 metric tons of liquid hydrogen—on the day of launch.

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

The two EAPs are capable of producing a total of 2,430,000 pounds-force (10.8 million newtons) of thrust—92 percent of the thrust required to carry out the mission.

The upper stage of the rocket is composed of the Etage Superieur Cryotechnique (ESC)—Cryogenic Upper Stage—which is powered by an Aestus rocket engine that is capable of being restarted. The upper stage also houses the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB) which carries the EchoStar 18 and BRIsat in the Système de Lancement Double Ariane (SYLDA) payload carrier. The launcher carried a total payload of 23,657 pounds (10,731 kilograms).

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—propelling the record setting rocket off the pad and into the skies above the Amazon.

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

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

Three minutes and twenty-five seconds 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.

Liftoff of Ariane 5 flight VA230

Ariane 5 lifts off on flight VA230. Image Credit: Arianespace

After about eight minutes and thirteen seconds of flight, 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 ignited, marking the final stage of the mission as the ESC brought EchoStar 18 and BRIsat closer to GTO.

Twenty-five minutes and 30 seconds into the mission, the ESC ended its thrust phase, bringing the EchoStar 18 satellite into insertion range of its target geostationary orbit. Four minutes later, the EchoStar 18 was successfully deployed. At forty-two minutes after launch, the BRIsat is finally deployed, marking the successful end of the third Ariane 5 mission of 2016 for Arianespace.

This mission was a return to the dual payload configuration of the Ariane 5 in 2016 as the two previous missions, VA228 and VA229, were both single passenger payloads.

EchoStar 18 and BRIsat are based on the SSL 1300 satellite platform. The EchoStar 18 is set to augment Dish Network’s existing satellite fleet and replace EchoStar 10, providing Direct Broadcast Services (DBS) for customers in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.

BRIsat is the first communications satellite in the world owned and exclusively operated by a financial institution, Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI). It will provide enhanced secure banking communications for more than 10,600 operational branches of BRI, as well as to some 237,000 electronic channel outlets and nearly 53 million customers across the Indonesian archipelago.

This was the third mission in what will be a busy year for Arianespace as the company sets a new objective of 12 launches, including as many as eight by the Ariane 5. The next Ariane 5 flight, designated VA231, will be carrying the DSN-1 and GSAT-18 satellites.

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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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