Ariane 5 explosion caused by fault in main engine cooling system

January 9, 2003

Brussels, 08 Jan 2003

Following the explosion of the Ariane 5 ECA space rocket on 11 December 2002 over the Atlantic, an inquiry board announced on 7 January 2003 that a fault in the main rocket motor was the cause of the explosion.

The inquiry board carried out a complete investigation that ranged from reviewing the technical documentation concerning the production of Ariane 5 ECA, to the pre-flight preparation and countdown.

The inquiry's investigations detected a leak in the cooling system of nozzle of the main Vulcain 2 engines of the Ariane 5 ECA, which occurred early in the flight and which lead to overheating and the eventual loss of control. The findings also identified the non-exhaustive definition of the loads to which the Vulcain 2 engine was subjected during flight as another cause of the mission failure.

Although the inquiry board could not detect any anomaly in the Vulcain 1 engine's 12 successful flights, an extensive examination of both the Vulcain 2 and Vulcain 1 nozzle has been requested: The Vulcain 1 engine of the Ariane 5 Baseline vehicle is set to be used for the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, which is scheduled for 24 February 2003.

The Ariane launcher was developed by Arianespace, a commercial launch services company, and was carrying two satellites belonging to the European telecoms consortium Eutelsat and the French space research institute CNES.

While chief executive officer of Arianespace, Jean Yves Le Gall stated his confidence in the Rosetta mission, Arianespace will once again review the launch date on 14 January 2003. The mission was immediately postponed following the Ariane 5 ECA failure. 'We are extremely confident about the flightworthiness of the Ariane 5 Baseline launcher with its Vulcain 1 engine, and our confidence is being borne out by re-verifications of the nozzle behaviour that currently are underway'.

Arianespace continue to plan future projects for the Ariane ECA, 'Ariane 5 ECA will allow Arianespace to pair up almost any combination of telecommunications satellite payloads on missions to GTO,' said Jean Yves Le Gall.

For more information, please consult the following web address:
http://www.arianespace.com/site/news/new s_sub_release_index.html

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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