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Ariane 5 lofts two large communications satellites into orbit

Ariane 5 flight VA255 sends two communications satellites into orbit for SES and the French military. Credit: Arianespace

Ariane 5 flight VA255 sends two communications satellites into orbit for SES and the French military. Credit: Arianespace

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket delivered two large communications satellites into space from the company’s South America launch site.

Liftoff for the mission, dubbed VA255, occurred at 10:10 p.m. EDT Oct. 23 (02:10 UTC Oct. 24), 2021, from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. Both satellites were deployed within 38 minutes of launch.

The Syracuse 4A and SES-17 satellites were deployed into a geostationary transfer orbit. Over the next days and weeks, they are expected to use their own onboard propulsion to climb to geostationary Earth orbit some 22,200 miles (35,800 kilometers).

“For this launch, we increased the Ariane 5 fairing volume by attaching a 1.5 [meter] raising cylinder to accommodate these two very large, stacked satellites,” Daniel de Chambure, ESA’s Acting Head of Ariane 5 adaptation and future missions, said in a press release. “The development and qualification of this adaptation was funded by ESA. Today’s launch of 11.2 [metric tons] to geostationary transfer orbit is a record performance for Ariane 5.”

SES-17, which had a launch mass of about 6400 kilograms, will eventually station itself over the Americas, the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean specifically to provide mobile internet service to customers aboard aircraft in those geographical areas.

This is the largest satellite ever built for SES by Thales Alenia Space and it is developed to work alongside other space communicators within medium Earth orbit, joining a constellation system known as O3b mPOWER.

The 3,850-kilogram Syracuse 4A spacecraft was launched to support drone and other military aircraft France will use expressly for the handling of communication from this uncrewed non-civil air-reinforcements. It is one of a set of two communication spacecraft for extending communication in the fleet of French military satellites.

According to Arianespace, both spacecraft have a design life of about 15 years.

Ariane 5 is a two stage liquid-fueled rocket. It’s first stage is supplemented by two large solid rocket boosters for the first two minutes of flight. The next launch for this rocket design is expected to be for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in December 2021.

“Ariane 5 demonstrates continuous improvement with each launch,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation. “The success today of launch VA255 and the success of VA254 last July were crucial to move towards Ariane 5’s December launch carrying the James Webb Space Telescope.”

Video courtesy of Arianespace


Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.

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