Feature story

Feature story

Ariane 5's potential role in U.S. human space flight is outlined by Arianespace's Chairman & CEO

August 5, 2009

Ariane 5 is available to support the future of U.S. space exploration, including cargo resupply flights for the International Space Station, along with missions to the Moon and Mars.

This was the message of Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall in a presentation today to the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, which was created to evaluate America’s future human spaceflight operations after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) planned retirement of the Space Shuttle.


Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall outlines Ariane 5’s capabilities in support of future U.S. space exploration during his presentation to the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee in Washington, D.C.

“Originally human-rated, the Ariane 5 has adapted to its present day role as the leading large capacity launch vehicle for satellite operators and international partners the world over,” Le Gall explained during his committee presentation in Washington, D.C.  “The Ariane 5 can reach lunar orbit, the lunar surface, and Mars – objectives that are compatible with NASA’s exploration missions.”

Le Gall underscored Ariane 5’s payload capabilities and its maturity as a proven, capable heavy-lift launch vehicle.  He noted that Ariane 5 has performed 45 launches to date, with 31 consecutive successes since 2003.  The vehicle’s heavy-lift payload capacity enables it to deliver 20 metric tons to low Earth orbit, seven metric tons to lunar transfer orbit, and five metric tons to Mars.

Arianespace’s ability to meet customers’ mission timing requirements also was highlighted by Le Gall, who underscored the company’s flight rate of seven Ariane 5 missions per year, and the sustained manufacturing output – with 46 launch vehicles currently in production.  

One key issue to be reviewed by the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee is resupply support for the International Space Station after the Space Shuttle’s removal from service.  NASA has selected U.S. contractors to develop commercial cargo resupply services (CRS) to replace the capacity provided by Space Shuttle flights – but there is concern of a possible gap if these new systems cannot be ready in time.   The result could be a shortfall of 3-12 metric tons in annual cargo delivery from 2010 to 2015.

Ariane 5 is able to offer gap-filler resupply services, Le Gall explained, having already demonstrated its capabilities by launching Europe’s first Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) to the International Space Station last year.  With a liftoff mass of approximately 20,750 kg., the ATV is able to deliver 7,750 kg. of cargo to the orbital station – providing cargo, fuel, water, air and supplies for its crew.

“Ariane 5-ATV cargo resupply can offer gap-filler services until CRS providers fully meet NASA requirements, and this approach can sustain the architecture for future U.S. human spaceflight by ensuring utilization of the completed International Space Station,” Le Gall said.  “Ariane 5 is fully available with 31 successes in a row – including last year’s perfect flight with the first ATV – which I feel is quite important, and this flight-proven system meets NASA’s space station resupply requirements.”

He added that Ariane 5 also continues the application of international collaboration for International Space Station operations, which is a point that has been stressed by at least one member of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

Le Gall noted that Ariane 5’s operating base at the Spaceport is a modern facility that meets all Western safety standards.  Located on NATO territory, its security is maintained at the same level as for NATO allies’ nuclear forces.     

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