By Thilo Kranz
Nothing is more gratifying than starting the holidays with good news! A good example of this is ESA’s Ariane 5 programme, which has taken some important steps in the closing days of the current year – the ordering of a further 18 Ariane 5 ECA launchers for the existing Ariane operations, the successful completion of ‘verification key points’ for the Ariane 5 ME ‘Midlife Evolution’ development programme and the start of construction work on a new upper stage tank facility in Bremen.
As part of the preparations for the decisions in the launchers area, which will be made at the ESA Ministerial Council Meeting in Luxembourg towards the end of 2014, the Ariane 5ME development programme introduced a milestone to evaluate the current status. An expert panel, consisting of representatives of the space agencies ESA, CNES and DLR, as well as industry, reviewed the project intensively over a two-week period. The objective was to determine whether the technical, planning and commercial project goals are being met and whether the programme costs are under control.
The result of the evaluation was very positive and attested to the Ariane 5 ME project being at an excellent intermediate stage, as well as revealing a convincing performance by the project teams from ESA and industry. Accordingly, the Ariane 5 ME is on track to launch for its qualification flight in 2018, while the flexibility of the new upper stage from Germany is being checked with a comprehensive test campaign. One key point that was also confirmed is that Ariane 5 in its new configuration will have an even higher payload capacity than originally requested. Ariane 5 ME will be able to launch payloads with a total mass of up to 12.5 tons into geostationary transfer orbit. There will therefore be sufficient flexibility to continue to efficiently operate the launcher into the next decade with dual launches and to respond flexibly to developments in the telecommunications sector.
One of the main recommendations of the panel of experts was to bring the new manufacturing facilities into operation as soon as possible, to enable an early start to be made with testing of the new upper stages and their components. In this context, the current progress on the construction site of the new upper stage tank facility in Bremen is particularly welcome. The companies ‘MT Aerospace’ and ‘EuroCryospace’ are building two new manufacturing facilities for the production of Ariane 5 ME upper stage tanks near the Astrium upper stage integration facility. Production, hitherto scattered across Europe, is now concentrated at the Bremen site, allowing a significant increase in efficiency and, thus, a considerable cost advantage. The earthworks in Bremen have now begun. The tank facility will be completed by the end of 2014, and then gradually ramp up production.
This will allow the 18 launchers ordered on 14 December to be the final batch in the highly successful Ariane 5 ECA series. They will fly in the period from 2017 to 2019. Thereafter, the Ariane 5 ME will go into production and provide the Ariane programme with new innovation and sustainability.
More info on the Ariane programme is available here.