Officials Say Ariane Will Be Grounded Until Problem Is Fixed
KOUROU, French Guiana (AP) _ The European Ariane rockets will be grounded until scientists solve the problem that caused an unmanned Ariane 2 rocket to veer off course and explode, officials said today.
″It’s too soon to evaluate the delay which Ariane launches will undergo,″ said Frederic d’Allest, president of Arianespace, the commercial arm of the European Space Agency.
″Launches can be restarted only if everything is completely clear as to what happened and everything has, consequently, been done,″ he told a news conference.
Asked to elaborate, d’Allest said ″it is probable that we can restart the launches between now and the end of the year.″
The next launch had been scheduled for June.
The Ariane 2 went off course Friday when its third stage failed to ignite, forcing scientists at mission control to blow up the rocket and the satellite it was carrying.
It was the fourth failure in the European Space Agency’s 18 Ariane launches, and the third time the problem has involved the third stage.
The scheduled 8:53 p.m. Friday EDT launch from the Kourou base on the northeastern shoulder of South America was postponed for 50 minutes after a computer indicated an abnormality with the Intelsat V F14 telecommunicat ions satellite, according to the officials.
A second schedule was set and the rocket blasted aloft on time.
But the officials said that four minutes and 36 seconds after the launch, the third stage had not ignited and the rocket veered off its trajectory. They said the decision was made to destroy the rocket after it climbed about 125 miles into the night sky.
The Intelsat communications satellite was destroyed, the officials said.
Officials place the value of the Intelsat satellite and the launching itself at about $50 million each.
An inquiry commission, including outside experts, will be set up to examine the failed launch, Jacques-Louis Lions, president of France’s National Center for Space Studies announced at Evry, outside Paris, where Ariane launches are monitored.
The Ariane 2 rocket was being tried for the first time. Ariane 1 was used in the last launch on Feb. 22, and Ariane 3 was first used in August 1984.
Ariane 4, more powerful than the others, was scheduled for launching later this year but no date has been set.
The Ariane has been the only vehicle available to place commercial satellites into space on a regular basis since the Jan. 28 explosion of the U.S Challenger space shuttle and setbacks by American unmanned rockets.
The Ariane series was on a tighter schedule to take advantage of the European Space Agency’s monopoly. D’Allest has said Ariane’s capacity is seven launches a year ″and our launch reservations are booked until the end of 1988.″
He said the Americans are certain to return quickly to the multibillion dollar market, while other nations, such as China, would compete within a few years.
Richard Colino, head of Intelsat, said his organization, with 110 member countries, ″has confidence in Arianespace and the European Space Agency in analyzing the cause of the failure.″