The Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency (ESA) has been a workhorse of uncrewed spaceflight for almost three decades. Some of the most significant and recognizable satellites have been launched into orbit with this rocket, however it has run out of fuel. The Ariane 5 has been officially decommissioned by the ESA with the launch on July 5, but its replacement isn’t quite ready yet, which could cause issues for European aerospace endeavors.
The European space shuttle Hermes was to be launched from the Ariane 5, which made its debut as a cargo vehicle in the mid-1990s. Europe’s reusable orbiter, like the Russian Buran shuttle program, was never launched into orbit, but the Ariane 5 has more than held up over time.
The Ariane 5 has only failed twice in 117 launches. This spacecraft launched half of all satellites over much of its existence. It has been trusted to launch some of the most important cargo missions in history, including the James Webb Space Telescope, Galileo GPS, the JUICE lunar exploration, and the Rosetta spacecraft that visited comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. That launch, which took place at the end of 2021, exemplified the Ariane 5’s reputation for dependability. The Webb launch went without a hitch, and the rocket successfully placed the telescope in the intended orbit. That prevented the observatory from wasting its own fuel, extending its expected operational life to 20 years as opposed to 10 years.
The most recent launch of the Ariane 5 wasn’t as significant as prior missions, but it was nevertheless able to place the two communication satellites into orbit. Syracuse 4B, a French defense satellite, and Heinrich Hertz, a German demonstration spacecraft, were both launched.
When the previous rocket was retired, the ESA had intended to have the Ariane 6 launch platform ready to go, but Ariane 6 is still in the testing stage. The majority of European launches will eventually switch to the 62-meter Ariane 6, but in the interim, the ESA will have to rely on rockets like the SpaceX Falcon 9. A week ago today, the organization launched the Euclid space telescope using SpaceX.
The Ariane 6 will reportedly start flying next year, but each mission will still require a brand-new rocket because it is an expendable vehicle. Although the ESA has plans for reusable rockets in the form of SpaceX, that technology won’t be available until the 2030s.