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Ariane 5 launch fails
Posted: Wed, Dec 11, 2002, 8:27 PM ET (0127 GMT)
Ariane 5 ESC-A (Arianespace) The launch of a new version of Europe's Ariane 5 booster failed because of an unexplained problem three minutes after launch, destroying the rocket and its payload of two satellites. The Ariane 5 ESC-A lifted off on schedule at 5:21 pm EST (2221 GMT) and the flight appeared to be proceeding smoothly, but several minutes after launch controllers noticed the vehicle was losing speed and altitude. Arianespace CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall later said that the vehicle suffered an "anomaly" three minutes after liftoff which led to the failure. At that stage of flight the rocket's two solid-propellant strap-on boosters have already separated, but the first-stage engine continues to fire. A press conference is scheduled for 8 am EST (1300 GMT) to provide further details about the failure. The loss of the Ariane 5 is a major blow not only to Arianespace but the commercial launch industry, space insurance industry, and even scientists. The failure is the third failure in 14 launches for the Ariane 5 dating back to 1996; a fourth launch is also considered a partial failure since it placed a test payload into an improper orbit. This Ariane 5 was the first to carry a new cryogenic upper stage that permits the vehicle to place ten tonnes into GTO, but the upper stage had yet to fire when the anomaly occurred. The Ariane 5 was carrying two satellites: the Hot Bird 7 communications satellite for Eutelsat and the Stentor experimental communications spacecraft for French space agency CNES. The loss, along with the Proton launch failure two weeks ago, could spell trouble for space insurers still coping with extensive in-orbit satellite problems in recent years. An extended grounding of the Ariane 5 could also spell trouble for ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, which must launch on an Ariane 5 between January 13 and 31 in order to rendezvous with comet Wirtanen.
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