This week, the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket completed its final mission after giving Europe access to space for nearly three decades. At 22:00 GMT on Wednesday 5 July, the rocket was launched from the European Space Agency (ESA) Cosmodrome in Kourou, French Guiana.
Its final flight placed two payloads in geostationary orbit. The first was the 3,400 kg weight Heinrich Hertz satellite The will test advanced communication technologies on behalf of the federal government. The second was the 3,750 kg Syracuse 4B satellite Affiliation to the French military.
Europe’s #Ariane 5 rocket completed its final flight in style, launching @DLR_de’s Heinrich Hertz and French Syracuse 4B satellites into their planned geostationary transfer orbits 👉 https://t.co/XYYDp86r8Y pic.twitter.com/ xzwLva90mu
— ESA (@esa) July 5, 2023
The legendary career of Ariane 5 began in 1996. As of Wednesday evening, it has included 117 orbital launches. Both satellites were successfully deployed about 30 minutes after launch. Shortly thereafter, Stéphane Israël, CEO of France’s Arianespace, which operates the rocket, said, “Ariane 5 is over now.” Ariane 5 did its job perfectly. It’s truly a legendary launcher now. But Ariane 6 is coming.”
The Ariane 5 saga has come to an end. Photo credit: ESA
Delay for ESA’s SpaceX competitors
In fact, the Ariane 5 era is over and Europe now needs a launch vehicle. There were delays in the construction of the Ariane 6 successor rocket. The lower-priced (in terms of heavy-lift rockets) upgraded version, designed to better compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9, is currently slated for its first test launch by the end of the year. If all goes well, it will begin commercial operations in 2024.
Find out about our conference presentations
Watch videos of our past lectures for free with TNW All Access →
The rocket was rolled out to the launch pad in Kourou. Photo credit: ESA
The rocket Europe has relied on for smaller payloads (Ariane 5 could carry over 11 tons), Italy’s Vega, has also encountered technical problems during its modernization process. The Vega C had a second failed launch attempt late last year and remains grounded.
Meanwhile, access to Russia’s medium-payload Soyuz has been suspended because Russia launched a war of aggression against Ukraine at the end of a global health crisis.
Taken together, these factors mean that Europe has no launch capacity and no direct connection to space. A report published earlier this year on behalf of ESA warns that Europe will soon be left behind in the next chapter of the space race.
In a somewhat somber tone heralding the end of the Ariane 5 era, the report, titled Revolution Space, states: “Countries and regions that fail to secure their independent access to space and its autonomous use are becoming strategic dependent and economically disadvantaged.” is an important part of this value chain.”