Brussels, 08 Apr 2003
Arianespace, the company that makes Western Europe's only commercial space launcher, has announced that an Ariane 5 rocket is preparing to blast off from Kourou, French Guiana, on 8 April.
This will be the first launch of an Ariane 5 spacecraft since the loss of an enhanced version of the rocket and its 600 million euro payload in December 2002 four minutes after take off.
That led to the grounding of all Ariane 5 launchers pending a comprehensive review of all systems. Arianespace is now confident that the standard model of the rocket is fully operational, and expects flight 160 to leave Kourou shortly after 22:49 GMT.
'The rocket has been rolled out onto the launch pad and everything is going as scheduled,' Claude Sanchez, an Arianespace spokesperson, told the French news agency AFP.
The company has a lot riding on flight 160 besides its payload of two telecommunications satellites. Arianespace is competing with American rivals for dominance of the satellite launch industry, but four failures from 14 Ariane 5 missions and an operating loss of around 50 million euro last year threaten to undermine its current market leadership in the sector.
There are currently no plans to launch a second enhanced Ariane 5 rocket, which has a payload capacity of ten tonnes. The investigation into the failure of its maiden voyage has concluded that a leak in a coolant pipe was to blame.
As a precautionary measure for the launch, the performance of the Vulcain-1 engine that powers the Ariane 5 rocket will be reduced slightly in order to minimise the possibility of overheating.
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