Mission Update

Mission Update

Arianespace launches two spacecraft on missions to explore the universe


Ariane 5 ascends from the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch zone during its morning liftoff with the Herschel and Planck space science payloads.


May 14, 2009

Ariane 5 provided another demonstration today of its operational flexibility in Arianespace service by placing two payloads on their way to deep space missions that will provide new insights into the origins and future of our universe.


Today’s Ariane 5 mission was the 44th flight for Arianespace’s workhorse heavy-lift launcher, and its 30th consecutive success.

Departing the Spaceport in a rare morning liftoff, the heavy-lift Ariane 5 carried its Herschel and Planck passengers into a very elliptical orbit with a perigee of 270 km. and an apogee of nearly 1.2 million km.  This will allow the two European Space Agency scientific spacecraft to subsequently perform the maneuvers enabling them to reach the Sun-Earth system’s second Lagrange point (L2), which is 1.5 million km. from Earth.

Ariane 5 lifted off on time from French Guiana at 10:12 a.m., and climbed out under a bright sun that penetrated the scattered clouds.  The weather was “green” during the final countdown phase, and heavy rains of earlier in the morning had moved clear of the Spaceport for the liftoff.  Tracking cameras followed the Ariane 5 downrange, including the separation of its two solid boosters – which occurred 2 min. 18 sec. into the mission at an altitude of 68 kilometers.

The flight was Arianespace’s first with payloads destined for L2, and it follows other missions performed by the company with spacecraft designed to explore the Moon, planets and comets – as well as supporting human space exploration with the International Space Station.

Ariane 5 lived up to its reputation for highly accurate payload delivery, providing an on-target start for  the long voyages of Herschel and Planck.  Provisional parameters at injection of the launch vehicle’s cryogenic upper stage were:

- Perigee: 270 km. for a target of 270 km.
- Apogee: 1,197,080 km. for a target of 1,193,622 km.
- Inclination: 5.99 degrees for a target of 6.00

In post-launch comments from the Spaceport’s mission control center, Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall said the mission also marked a notable 30th straight success for Ariane 5.

A new world record, and confirmation why all major satellite operators have signed with Arianespace

“This is a new world record, and it is why all of the major satellite operators have signed contracts with Arianespace,” Le Gall said.  “One of our customers, when recently entrusting its next satellite to us, said: ‘If you really want to be a space industry player, you have to be launched by Ariane 5.’”

Le Gall also congratulated the European Space Agency (ESA), which will operate the Herschel and Planck spacecraft launched on today’s flight.  “This is the latest proof of the extraordinary achievements of ESA’s scientific program, for which Arianespace is please to play a role in its success.”

In addition, the Arianespace Chairman & CEO thanked all of the suppliers, organizations, agencies and others involved in the Ariane 5 program for their contributions to the launch vehicle’s track record of highly accurate missions.   “I want to tell them that more than ever, their competence, strong will – and especially their passion – warrants true respect,” he stated. 

European Space Agency Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain confirmed Ariane 5’s successful deployment of his organization’s two spacecraft, adding that initial data transmissions were received from Herschel and Planck several minutes after their separation from the launch vehicle.  He acknowledged Arianespace’s role in providing an on-time start to a long and promising deep space mission.

Demonstrating professionalism and a customer-oriented approach with each Arianespace launch


Logos on the 17-meter-long Ariane 5 payload fairing include depictions of the Herschel and Planck, as well as the slogan: “The universe - yours to discover.”

“At each launch of Ariane 5, Arianespace is demonstrating its professionalism and customer-oriented approach,” Dordain said.  “I can tell you that it is good to be a customer of Arianespace!”

Ariane 5 carried a total payload of 6,000 kg. on today’s mission, of which approximately 5,320 kg. was the combined weight of its two payloads.  The other mass included the payload integration hardware and Ariane 5’s SYLDA dual-payload dispenser system.

Herschel had a mass at liftoff of 3,400 kg. and became the largest space telescope ever launched.  Developed to provide astronomers with data at far-infrared and sub-millimeter wavelengths, Herschel carries a 3.5-meter-diameter mirror that will explore the “cold” universe – studying the chemical composition of the atmosphere around celestial bodies and the universe’s molecular chemistry.  This spacecraft was released first during the mission, deployed from atop Ariane 5’s payload “stack” at just under 26 minutes into the flight.  

Planck was installed in the launcher’s lower payload position, and it separated from the launch vehicle approximately 2 min. 30 sec. later.  This 1,920-kg. spacecraft is designed to observe the Cosmic Microwave Background – helping to determine the universe’s fundamental characteristics, including the overall geometry of space, the density of normal matter and the rate at which the universe is expanding.  

Both Planck and Herschel were built by Thales Alenia Space-led industry teams. 

In his concluding remarks following today’s launch, Le Gall said the new success is part of a busy 2009 launch schedule for Arianespace, with five more missions to come before year-end.  He announced that the next Ariane 5 launch is planned for late June with TerreStar I, which will be the largest commercial telecommunications satellite ever orbited. 


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