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Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket has completed its final flight

Heinrich Hertz and Syracuse 4B placed in Geostationary Transfer Orbit

Last Ariane 5 took off from ELA-3 in Kourou

On July 5, 2023, the last Ariane 5 ECA rocket, known as Ariane Flight VA261, successfully launched the Heinrich-Hertz and SYRACUSE 4B satellites into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The launch took place at Ariane Launch Complex No. 3 (ELA 3) at the Guyana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, at 22:00 UTC (18:00 EDT). Approximately 33 minutes after being released, the satellites were placed into transfer orbits: Heinrich-Hertz at 631.42 x 35.731 km and SYRACUSE 4B (also referred to as 'Comsat-NG 2') at 628.16 x 35.629 km.

Manufactured by Airbus, the SYRACUSE 4B satellite is designed to facilitate secure communications among French military aircraft, ground systems, and warships, including submarines. On the other hand, the Heinrich-Hertz satellite, also known as H2Sat, was constructed by OHB and will be utilized for testing new communication technologies for the German government.

This mission, designated as the 117th flight of Ariane 5 and VA261, marks the final launch of the Ariane 5 series. Following the launch, the satellites will utilize their engines to transition into geostationary orbit and reach their intended position at 0.5 degrees east, which is anticipated to be achieved in early July 2023.

Arianespace, the prime contractor for the development and production of the Ariane rocket family, is facing a significant moment as it transitions from the successful Ariane 5 program to the new Ariane 6. ArianeGroup, responsible for the preparation operations of Ariane rockets, will deliver flight-ready launchers to Arianespace, which operates and markets the rockets from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. The collaborative efforts of Arianespace, the French space agency (CNES), and ArianeGroup have ensured the success of the Ariane 5 program over its 27-year duration.

With 111 successful flights out of a total of 116, the Ariane 5 has become one of the most reliable and secure launch vehicles, providing Europe with independent access to space. It has achieved remarkable milestones, including launching significant missions such as the XMM-Newton and Herschel and Planck space telescopes. The Ariane 5 also played a crucial role in the historic Rosetta mission, which achieved the first soft landing on a comet, as well as the European Automated Transfer Vehicle space freighters that supplied the International Space Station from 2008 to 2015.

Now, the focus is on the Ariane 6, which builds upon the success of its predecessor. The new rocket retains cryogenic and solid fuel propellant technologies while incorporating advanced materials, telemetry, and control systems. The European Space Agency, CNES, and Arianespace are working together to launch the Ariane 6, aiming to continue Europe's presence in space exploration.

As Arianespace and its partners work towards the successful launch of the Ariane 6, they continue to uphold Europe's reputation for reliable and efficient access to space, having launched numerous commercial and Galileo satellites in the past.

Before, the take-off had already been delayed by about two weeks: “Following the replacement of three pyrotechnic transmission lines considered questionable on Ariane 5, as well as a comprehensive review of all pyrotechnic lines, Arianespace has decided to restart the launch campaign. launch of VA261,” the statement said. Launch from the ELA-3 platform at the French Guiana Space Center in Kourou is scheduled at 6:30 pm local time. As the company notes, at the moment the rocket, as well as the Heinrich-Hertz-Satellit (H2S) and SYRACUSE 4B satellites, are in stable and safe condition. Initially, the launch was scheduled for last June 16, but due to technical problems identified at the last moment, it was postponed indefinitely. According to Arianespace,

OHB System's Heinrich-Hertz satellite will be placed into orbit for the German Space Agency. According to Arianespace, this is the first German mission based on a telecommunications satellite, which will be used to carry out research and test new technologies. "The technologies onboard the satellite are designed to respond intelligently and flexibly to future challenges, to support future telecommunications scenarios, and to adapt from Earth to new technical requirements and market needs," the company said. The launch of SYRACUSE 4B was commissioned by the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. The first device in this series, SYRACUSE 4A, was placed into orbit in October 2021. In addition to providing communications to French forces, the satellite will also support NATO operations.

Heinrich Hertz – H2SAT

The Heinrich Hertz, whose development was carried out by OHB System, will be approximately 36,000 kilometers in the equatorial plane and will be situated above the same point on the Earth's surface. It is located a little south of Ghana on the Atlantic Ocean. The Heinrich Hertz mission is being managed by the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt – DLR) for the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium fuer Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz – BMWK) and with the participation of the Federal Ministry of Defense (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung – BMVg), using funding provided by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi).

The satellite has a total mass of 3,450 kg and its function is to test new telecommunications technologies at a technical and scientific level to determine how broadband communications, for example, can result in high data traffic for mobile end users. The objectives of the mission are scientific and technical verification of hardware and software and scientific experiments in the field of communications; preparations and testing of pre-operational 'Satcom' services for German users in the public sector.

The Heinrich Hertz mission marks the first launch of a German communications satellite dedicated to researching and testing new technologies and communications scenarios. The mission will thus make an important contribution to the information society in Germany. The Heinrich Hertz mission is being managed by the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Bonn on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium fuer Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz; BMWK) and with the participation of the Federal Ministry of Defense (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung; BMVg). OHB System AG was contracted to develop and build the satellite. The companies IABG GmbH, MDA AG, and TESAT GmbH & Co. KG are also involved in the development and testing of the satellite. OHB Digital Connect is responsible for the land segment in collaboration with CGI. The satellite control center is based in Bonn. The sites for the new mission ground stations are in Hürth (North Rhine-Westphalia) and Neustrelitz (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania).

French satellite Syracuse 4B

The contract for Comsat-NG (Communication par satellite de Nouvelle Génération), then renamed Syracuse-4 (or Syracuse IV), signed in December 2015, covers the construction and launch of two military communications satellites for the French armed forces, to replace the Syracuse 3A and 3B, released in 2005 and 2006, respectively. These new satellites would enter service in 2021 and give France a high-performance system with new services. The Syracuse IV system is made up of satellites (Syracuse 4A and 4B) and ground stations that ensure communications in theaters of operations and with the mainland. It will be completed by 2030 by a third satellite that meets the needs of aeronautical platforms (connectivity, drones, etc.),

Designed for a fifteen-year lifetime, the two satellites have identical X- and Ka-band payloads, built by Thales Alenia Space. One (Syracuse 4A) uses the all-electric Spacebus-Neo platform with a total mass of 3,500 kg – while the current 4B, a Eurostar-3000EOR electric-powered chassis. The Syracuse-4 satellites will feature “unrivaled resistance to even the most extreme jamming methods, thanks to state-of-the-art equipment, including an active anti-jamming antenna and an integrated digital processor,” according to the French military.

The French Air and Space Forces no longer have sovereign launchers (Ariane 6 and Vega C, or even Soyuz de Kourou) to launch their spy satellites, namely CSO-3 and CO3D. The last one, to be used for the Syracuse 4B, was linked to the German telecommunications satellite – which had its assembly and integration process delayed. As a result, Arianespace was forced to postpone the launch to June – it was scheduled for February. Initially, the launch was even scheduled for 2022. Arianespace implicitly announced this delay on January 10 in a tweet: “It's time to reveal the passenger of our next Ariane 5, VA260 in April: the amazing JUICE, built by AirbusSpace for ESA !”

The reason for the delay was the developed H2Sat ground segment which was not ready. Financed by the DLR, the German satellite, whose manufacturing was entrusted to the DLR, had its industrial development (310 million euros) launched in September 2017 and delayed compliance with the initial planning.

praise to the rocket

Legacy of the Launcher

“Ariane 5 is the most successful European launch vehicle. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope made this particularly clear. NASA entrusted us Europeans with launching the largest and most expensive space telescope of all time. And Ariane launched James Webb so precisely that the telescope needed to use significantly less of its own propellant to reach its target orbit, allowing scientists to use the telescope for much longer than the planned ten years. To continue this success story of the Ariane launcher and to maintain Europe's access to space, we must now start Ariane 6 operations as soon as possible,” said Walther Pelzer, Executive at Arianespace.

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