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Vibrations cause Arianespace delays

March 23, 2021

By Chris Forrester

Recent launches of the giant Ariane 5 rocket have suffered excess vibration, causing severe delays to the rocket’s launch manifest.

The problem with fairing vibrations has also affected launches made by the US’s United Launch Alliance and its Atlas 5 rockets.

The vibrations occur prior to the separation of the rocket’s crucial fairings prior to discharge of the rocket’s cargo. The fairings protect the rocket’s cargo during the first few minutes after launch. The fairings themselves are made by Switzerland-based RUAG Space. Space Intel Report says that the manufacturer has identified the problems and begun to implement a cure.

However, what is clear is that the problems are further exacerbating the problems already being faced by Arianespace and its Ariane 5 rocket. The Covid pandemic has not helped and for much of 2020 the key Arianespace launch site in Kourou was on a much-reduced working schedule and the site – in effect – closed from March 2020 to August 2020.

Arianespace cannot be blamed for virus delays, but when compared with the rapid and regular deployment of arch-rival SpaceX and its hugely reliable Falcon 9 rockets then Arianespace doesn’t exactly emerge with glory.

Delays to the design and development of Arianepsace’s follow-on rocket, the ArianeGroup’s Ariane 6 version, have not helped boost confidence leading to clients switching their launches to rival providers. Recent cancellations have included a pair of Galileo European navigation and positioning satellites which have switched from Ariane 6 to a Russian Soyuz-ST launcher.

Last October the European Space Agency asked its member nations for an additional €230 million ($268) in funding for Ariane 6’s on-going development. However, the maiden flight of Ariane-6 has now slipped to Q2/2022 (it should have been launched in 2020).

That maiden flight was supposed to carry a batch of satellite for the UK/India-backed OneWeb constellation. OneWeb is currently Arianespace’s most important customer and there’s a $1+bn contract between Arianespace and OneWeb to launch the mega-constellation’s satellites.

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