The Spaceport’s ELA-2 launch facility is dismantled after an illustrious career
A chapter in commercial launcher history is coming to a close as the Spaceport’s ELA-2 launch site – which hosted 119 missions of the Ariane 2, 3 and 4 vehicles during 17 years – undergoes a controlled dismantling in French Guiana.
In one of the most dramatic steps, the facility’s 80-meter tall mobile gantry was brought down this month by pyrotechnic charges that are similar to those used for separating an Ariane launcher’s stages during flight.
The ELA-2 gantry provided a protected environment for final preparation of the Ariane 2, 3 and 4 vehicles after their transfer to the launch pad – including payload installation. It was rolled back to a parked position prior to the vehicle’s liftoff. Metal recovered from the gantry is being cut up, compressed and shipped to Europe for recycling or disposal in specialized centers.
ELA-2 was phased out of operation in February 2003 when Ariane 5 assumed the full duties for Arianespace’s commercial missions at the Spaceport. Dismantlement of the ELA-2 site began this July, with the work to be completed by year-end. This activity is performed under a mandate of the European Space Agency – which owns the Spaceport’s facilities and is the design authority for Ariane launchers. The work is carried out by France’s CNES space agency, the Ariane program prime contractor and the Spaceport’s operator.
As the Spaceport’s launch infrastructure user, Arianespace was assigned the responsibility of removing pollution sources from the ELA-2 propellant feed lines.
While the ELA-2 site’s most visible elements are disappearing from view, the Spaceport is becoming busier than ever in support of Arianespace’s commercial launch activities.
The successor ELA-3 facility continues in activity with the heavy-lift Ariane 5, while the former ELA-1 installation – which was used for missions with Ariane 1, 2 and 3 versions from 1979 to 1989 – has been reborn as the launch site for the lightweight Vega vehicle. The Spaceport’s newest installation is the purpose-built facility for Arianespace’s medium-lift Soyuz, which will enter service in October when the first Russian-built vehicles lifts off from French Guiana.
Some elements of the ELA-2 infrastructure will have a new life in service, as certain designated facilities are being reutilized to support Ariane 5 and Soyuz launch activity.