The stage reached in Ariane-5 development means that the qualification flight dates can now be firmed up. The European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency (CNES), in liaison with the relevant firms, have accordingly carried out a detailed review of the Ariane-5 time schedule leading up to the 501 and 502 flights.
The Ariane-5 development programme has now entered a phase of intensive testing of the launcher's main components (P230 solid booster, H155 cryogenic stage, L9 storable- propellant stage) and the associated ground infrastructure:
- Of the seven full-scale firings of the P230 solid booster planned under the programme, four have been successfully carried out to date. In the most recent test, which took place on 30 September, the configuration of the booster as regards its structure, the device attaching it to the launcher's central body and the on-board nozzle actuation system was similar to the in-flight configuration.
- Since 5 September, the H155 cryogenic stage has beend undergoing a campaign of "battleship" tests using a reinforced (battleship) stage together with other items of equipment virtually identical to their flight hardware counterparts, such as the Vulcain engine and all the on-board fluids and electrical equipment. During the battleship campaign, the stage is fixed to the launch table and connected to the fluids and electrical systems in the launch zone and to the monitoring and command systems and associated software. With this set-up it is possible to validate all filling and draining operations, togeth with engine pre-cooling, ignition and operation and any malfunctions associated with all these activities. The results obtained so far generally conform to predictions.
- The L9 storable-propellant stage successfully completed its first long-duration test (1075 seconds) on 5 October. This test follows on from a series of firings of the Aestus engine that powers this stage.
- Development and testing of the components comprising the launcher's upper section are going to plan.
- The ground infrastructure in French Guiana has been completed and is operational except for the final assembly building, which is not needed until May 1995 and will be ready in March that year.
This encouraging programme situation combined with the positive results of the test campaigns under way can be taken as confirmation that the 501 flight remains scheduled for autumn 1995, with 29 November as the target date. The four satellites in CLUSTER, one of the projects in ESA's science programme, will be passengers on that flight. The 501 flight date means that the date of 3 April 1996 can be maintained for the 502 flight.
The first operational Ariane-5 flight (503), to be conducted under the responsibility of Arianespace, remains scheduled for October 1996.
ESA has delegated the management of its Ariane-5 programme to CNES.