Not so much an anniversary, more a consecration......Ariane 4 yesterday took Europe*Star, a communications satellite, to orbit. And took it there with the precision which has become its hallmark. So much so in fact that the event - awesome and yet strangely banal - could well have gone almost unnoticed. If that is the launcher had not been lifting off with a remarkable record onboard - the 100th launch of the Ariane 4 generation. This may not be the end of a career - some twenty more Ariane-
4 launches are scheduled between now and 2003 - but it certainly is a high point. And confirmation that cooperation - among ESA's member states - delivers the goods.
As early as the mid-1970s, the Agency's member states took on a daunting challenge - to secure independence for Europe in space, which meant giving ESA its own independent access to space. In a market then dominated by American launchers, this was bold verging on reckless. But with Ariane-4, Europe held the key to success. Almost unlimited adaptability, almost faultless reliability, serving an ever accelerating launch rate.
Boosted by such a fine launcher, the European space industry quite literally took off, soon becoming the world's leader in commercial satellite launches. And today Ariane 4 can proudly boast more than a 50% share of that market, just twelve years on from its first foray into space. A fine example for its successor, Ariane 5!