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Enhanced Ariane launcher passes first test

Ariane 5 was launched successfully from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana on 12 February. This latest version of Ariane 5 is designed to carry heavier payloads than ever before, and did not show any signs of strain under the weight of three attached satellites. 'Less than o...

Ariane 5 was launched successfully from Europe's spaceport in French Guiana on 12 February. This latest version of Ariane 5 is designed to carry heavier payloads than ever before, and did not show any signs of strain under the weight of three attached satellites. 'Less than one month after the descent of Huygens on Titan, this launch marks another great achievement for Europe in space and a further demonstration of European skills in this highly demanding technological field,' said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director-General of the European Space Agency (ESA). 'Guaranteed access to space is a pre-requisite for our success in all space activities and so it is our duty to maintain this capacity to the full.' One of the satellites already released into orbit is Sloshsat FLEVO, designed to investigate fluid dynamics in microgravity conditions. It will do this by monitoring the behaviour of 33.5 litres of de-ionised water contained in a tank on board the miniature satellite. Sloshsat FLEVO was jointly developed by ESA and the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR). Much thought went into the naming of the satellite. While 'slosh' refers to the movement water and 'sat' to satellite, 'FLEVO' is both the project's acronym (facility for liquid experimentation and verification in orbit) and the name of the last province in the Netherlands to be reclaimed from the sea. Ariane was also carrying the XTAR-EUR telecommunications satellite, which was successfully placed in geostationary transfer orbit shortly after takeoff, and the Maqsat B2, an instrumented platform for telemetry and video imaging. This satellite will remain attached to the launcher in order to limit space debris. The success of this heavy-lift version of Ariane 5 means that it will now be introduced commercially. Known as 'Ariane 5 ECA', it will replace the current Ariane 5G (generic) configuration, and ESA is hoping that it will maintain the competitiveness of European launch systems on the world launch services market. 'Starting from the second flight scheduled for mid-year, Ariane 5 ECA will become the new European workhorse for lifting heavy payloads to geostationary orbit and beyond,' says ESA. Ariane 5 ECA features upgraded twin solid boosters loaded with an extra 2.43 tonnes of propellant. This increases their thrust on lift-off by a total of 60 tonnes compared to the generic configuration. The launcher is designed to carry payloads of up to ten tonnes.