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Ariane 5 rocket lifts off with two communications satellites

Launch of Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana Arianespace photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Archive photo of Ariane 5 lifting off from Kourou, French Guiana. Photo Credit: Arianespace

Arianespace successfully sent two communications satellites into space on Thursday, Aug. 20, using the company’s Ariane 5 heavy launcher. Liftoff occurred at 4:34 p.m. EDT (5:34 local time; 20:34 GMT) from the Ariane Launch Complex No. 3 (ELA 3) at the European spaceport located in Kourou, French Guiana. Today was Arianespace’s 225th mission to date in the company’s history (VA225). It delivered the EUTELSAT 8 West B and Intelsat 34 comsats into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

The 180 ft. (55.9 m) tall rocket, during the first phase of the ascent, was powered by the Vulcain 2 main engine of the Core Stage and the two Solid Rocket Boosters which burned for two minutes and 24 seconds before separating from the launch vehicle. Then, the Vulcain 2 engine alone powered the vehicle until the separation of the Payload Fairing three minutes and 21 seconds into the flight.

Engineers prepare the EUTELSAT 8 West B satellite for the Aug. 20 launch

Engineers prepare the EUTELSAT 8 West B satellite for the Aug. 20 launch. Photo Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

The first stage of the rocket shut down about 9 minutes after the liftoff and separated 6 seconds later. Next, the ignition of the HM-7B engine of the ESC-A – Cryogenic upper stage started. The engine burned for 15 minutes and 52 seconds.

The EUTELSAT 8 West B was deployed first during the flight, 28 minutes and 19 seconds after the launch. The Intelsat 34 satellite separated about 13 minutes later. The flight lasted 42 minutes and the mission ended about 1 hour and 8 minutes after the launch. The main stage of the rocket, when its role in the flight was finished, fell back to Earth, off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean (in the Gulf of Guinea).

During the mission, the launcher’s attitude and trajectory are entirely controlled by the two onboard computers in the Ariane 5 vehicle equipment bay (VEB).

The Ariane 5 rocket was rolled out to the Spaceport’s launch zone on Wednesday, Aug. 19. The engineers also completed final hands-on work at the launch pad as the countdown for the launch started. The launch readiness review was completed one day earlier. The review is one of the final steps in every Arianespace launch campaign. It confirmed the readiness of the workhorse Ariane 5 vehicle, its dual payload, the launch site’s infrastructure, and the downrange tracking station network.

The EUTELSAT 8 West B, manufactured by Thales Alenia Space (TAS) using a Spacebus 4000 C4 platform, is the 143rd satellite built by TAS (and its predecessors) to be placed into orbit by Arianespace. Spacebus 4000 uses a modular approach, with a separate construction of the satellite platform and payloads for integration late in the manufacturing process. The satellite, weighing 5.8 metric tons, is planned to be operational for 15 years. It will go into full commercial service in early October following checks to validate its performance on orbit.

Fitted with 40 active Ku-band transponders, the satellite will be positioned at 8° West and will provide high-definition and ultra-high-definition direct TV broadcast services to North Africa and the Middle East. The satellite is also equipped with ten C-band transponders, allowing it to provide telecommunications services in Africa and the eastern part of South America.

EUTELSAT is considered to be the leading satellite operator in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and third worldwide in terms of revenues. It has entrusted its satellites to Arianespace for more than 30 years, starting with the launch of its first satellite, Eutelsat-1-F1, in June of 1983.

The second passenger of the VA225 mission, Intelsat 34, weighs in at 3.3 metric tons and will provide services for Latin America media customers in the C-band and host a leading Brazilian DTH platform in the Ku-band. It will also provide Ku-band infrastructure for aeronautical and maritime service providers delivering mobility capabilities over North Atlantic routes. It will replace the Intelsat 805 and Galaxy 11 satellites.

Manufactured by Space Systems Loral (SSL) and using the SSL 1300 platform, Intelsat 34 is the 51st geostationary platform built by SSL (and its predecessors) to be placed into orbit by Arianespace. The SSL 1300 platform can be flown in different configurations to accommodate different communication payloads with a total power of 5 to 18kW.The satellite’s lifespan expected to be around 15 years.

Intelsat 34 satellite being prepared for the Aug. 20 launch

Intelsat 34 satellite being prepared for the Aug. 20 launch. Photo Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

Intelsat 34 uses SSL’s heritage electric propulsion system, the SPT-100, which is actively in use on 17 satellites with more than 40,000 hours of successful on-orbit operation.

As the world’s leading provider of satellite services in terms of revenues and in-orbit capacity, Intelsat’s fleet of approximately 50 satellites delivers high-performance connectivity solutions for media, fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure, enterprise, and government and military applications. Intelsat’s relationship with Arianespace began in October 1983 with the launch of Intelsat 507.

Both satellites arrived in Kourou in mid-July. Propellant loading on both spacecraft began in late July as the two satellites received their propellant load necessary to take them to the desired orbit. They were transferred to the Final Assembly Building in French Guiana on Aug. 10 and encapsulated on the launcher two days later.

The Ariane 5, in its ECA configuration, that was used in this launch is the heavy-lift version that is designed for missions to GTO. It is powered during the initial flight phase by a cryogenic core stage and two solid rocket boosters, followed by the utilization of a cryogenic upper stage for orbital injection of the payload.

The ECA is an improved version of the Ariane 5 launcher, designed to deliver payloads, mainly communications satellites, weighing up to 10 metric tons to orbit. Although it has the same general architecture, some significant changes were made to the basic structure of the generic version to increase thrust and enable it to carry heavier payloads.

EUTELSAT 8 West B and Intelsat 34 are the 513th and 514th satellites launched by Arianespace respectively. Thursday’s flight was the 81st launch of an Ariane 5 rocket to date.

The spaceport in French Guiana is now busy with preparations for several of the company’s other upcoming missions. Another heavy-lift vehicle is taking shape for Flight VA226 at the launch site’s Launcher Integration Building for Ariane 5. The flight will place into orbit the NBN Co 1A satellite for Australia’s National Broadband Network and ARSAT-2 for Argentinean satellite operator ARSAT in September.

At separate locations, two European Galileo navigation satellites and their Soyuz launcher are being readied for Flight VS12 – scheduled in September as well from French Guiana – while elements are on-hand at the launch base for the Vega vehicle that will loft Europe’s LISA Pathfinder on a November mission to explore the universe.

Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said: “Arianespace is very proud of our successful dual launch this evening for the two leading commercial customers of our heavy launcher, Ariane 5. I would like to thank Intelsat and Eutelsat for their unwavering trust and loyalty over more than 30 years.

“We are also very honored this evening by the presence of the French Minister for the Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs. I would like to express my personal thanks to him and the French government for their constant support of the Ariane program and Arianespace, against the backdrop of a deep reorganization of the European launcher industry.”

Video courtesy of Arianespace


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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