Spaceflight Insider

Ariane 5 poised to be retired

Ariane 5 launches from Kourou French Guiana photo credit Jeremy Beck SpaceFlight Insider

The days (and number of flights) of the Ariane 5 rocket – are numbered. Photo Credit: Jeremy Beck / SpaceFlight Insider

After more than twenty years in service, the Ariane 5 rocket is going to stop flying. The European rocket was first flown in June of 1996, and ArianeSpace has now ordered the last ten Ariane 5 launchers.

The Ariane 5 succeeded the Ariane 4, but was not derived from it. The cryogenic main stage burns hydrogen and oxygen, using the Vulcain 2 engine that produces 310,000 pounds of thrust.

Ariane 6 rocket Ariane Group image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Ariane 6 rocket at booster separation. Image Credit: Ariane Group

Two solid rocket boosters are fueled by aluminum perchlorate, aluminum fuel, and hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, producing 1,590,000 pounds of thrust.

The second stage of the Ariane 5 G, G+, GS, and ES are fueled by monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, but was modified to burn hydrogen and oxygen for the Ariane 5 ESC.

In 2013, ArianeSpace ordered 13 rockets, known as the PB+ batch. Once the past of these rockets are launched, Ariane will launch the last ten rockets, the PC batch, beginning in 2020.

The vehicles will launch from the Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana.

This round of rockets, and the phase-out of the Ariane 5, will pave the way for the Ariane 6, which is currently scheduled to begin flights in 2020. The Ariane 6 will use a Vulcain 2.1 engine in the lower stage, with the new VINCI engine in the upper stage.

Luce Fabreguettes, Executive Vice President of Missions, Operations, and Purchasing, said, “With the production go-ahead for these 10 new launchers, Arianespace proudly leverages the exceptional performance, reliability and availability of Ariane 5 to deliver the best possible launch service for its customers, while also guaranteeing Europe’s independent access to space. Along with our partners, this new contract ensures that we will have the best conditions to succeed in the operational transition from Ariane 5 to Ariane 6 for the benefit of all our customers.” 

ArianeGroup CEO Alain Charmeau added, “This production kickoff of 10 new Ariane 5 ECA represents, for the European industry, a total of more than 1 billion euros. This also allows us to continue capitalizing on the exceptional levels of quality and punctuality that have made Ariane 5 so successful, while being consistent with the rapid market introduction of Ariane 6.” 

Although the Ariane 5 exploded on its first flight, it later became known for its reliability, punctuality, and frequency of use. Ariane 5 rockets launch, on average, six to seven times a year. The Ariane 5 ECA and ES are the only models still in use. There have only been two Ariane 5 failures—its initial flight in 1996, due to a software problem, and a Dec. 2002 flight in which the Vulcain 2 engine failed. 






Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Reader Comments

Ariane 5 was human-rated for the never-built Hermes space plane. The Europeans could not get their act together and cough up funding so they missed the opportunity to have their own Human Space Flight program. Sad.

“As intended, the Hermes was a reusable launch system that would have been used to transport both astronauts and moderate-size cargo payloads into low Earth orbit (LEO) and back again.[2] In basic concept and operation, the Hermes bears a resemblance to other reusable space vehicles, such as the American Space Shuttle.”

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