Preparations are well underway for the qualification flight of Europe’s latest launcher, the Ariane 5 ECA, from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The launch window opens on the evening of 12 February at 16:49 (20:49 CET) and will extend until 18:10 (22:10 CET).
Ariane 5 ECA will be able to place heavy payloads of up to 10 tonnes into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) in comparison to the 6-tonne payloads placed into GTO by the Ariane 5 Generic launchers. The increased performance of the Ariane 5 ECA is due to two main differences:
- a more powerful Vulcain-2 first stage engine developed from the Ariane 5 generic Vulcain 1 engine
- a cryogenic upper stage (ESCA) using the tried and tested Ariane 4 HM7B engine that made over 130 successful launches
Since the failure of the first Ariane 5 ECA Flight in December 2002, the Vulcain-2 nozzle extension has been redesigned and tested, and an exhaustive review of the whole launcher has been conducted.
Flight 164 will carry three payloads on its journey into space:
- an XTAR-EUR telecommunications satellite: to be placed into GTO
- Sloshsat-FLEVO, an experimental mini-satellite to investigate the dynamics of fluids in weightlessness, jointly developed by ESA and NIVR, the Dutch Agency for Aerospace Programmes: to be placed into GTO
- Maqsat B2 telemetry/video imaging package: to remain mated to the upper stage of the launcher for recording flight data
A successful rehearsal of the entire launch countdown - including final fuelling and countdown but stopping short of ignition - took place on 12 January. This enabled mission team members to validate launch procedures, and test all launcher equipment and ground facilities.