Arianespace has cleared the Ariane 5 to return to flight with the launch of a pair of satellites on July 27. The vehicle has been grounded for almost a year due to fairing issues discovered over its last two missions
In May 2021, a United States Government Accountability Office report revealed that fairing issues identified on the Ariane 5’s last two flights had forced Arianespace to ground the vehicle. Although the fairing issues did not affect the successful completion of the missions, the issues were significant enough that the launch operator chose to address them before returning to flight.
Arianespace has since worked with fairing supplier RUAG Space to correct the anomalies identified in the fairing’s performance.
The announcement that the Ariane 5 launch vehicle would be returned to flight was made by Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël on Twitter. The return-to-flight mission will carry Eutelsat’s reprogrammable Quantum satellite and SSL’s Star One D2 communication satellite.
The return of the Ariane 5 vehicle is a key development to ensuring that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope does not suffer further delays.
Work on the $10 billion James Webb telescope began in 1996. Since then, the project has suffered endless delays and ballooning costs. However, work on the telescope is now all but complete with it set to be shipped to the European launch facility in French Guiana
The exact date the telescope is expected to be shipped will not be formally announced. The secrecy is a precaution to combat the possibility of the payload being seized by pirates and held for ransom, as bizarre as that statement may sound in the 21st century.
Prior to its launch, a total of two commercial Ariane 5 launches will need to be completed in order to validate the vehicle’s fairing issues have been corrected. When there is a $10 billion asset set to lift off aboard the vehicle in question, it’s worth taking a precaution or two.
The second of the two missions is expected to lift off in September carrying a pair of satellites for telecommunications provider SES and the French military.
If both missions are successfully completed without suffering any delays, the launch of the James Webb telescope is slated to lift off in November.
The Ariane 5 was first introduced in 1996. After recording a failure and a partial failure over two years, the first successful launch was completed in October 1998. Since then, the vehicle has been launched in support of 109 missions suffering just two failures and three partial failures. Arianespace is likely to continue to operate the Ariane 5 launch vehicle through 2023 before retiring it in favour of its next-generation Ariane 6 vehicle. Ariane 6 is expected to offer similar performance to its predecessor but at a fraction of the price.