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The Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher has assured Europe’s access to space since 1997. It quickly established itself as the world leader in the launch market for geostationary telecommunications satellites, offering the ability to place 10 tonnes for a dual launch and 10.8 tonnes for a single launch into geostationary transfer orbit. It also provided the capacity to loft 21 tonnes into low Earth orbit, as it did for the ATV cargo spacecraft that ferried supplies to the International Space Station.
Ariane 5 is an evolutionary launcher. Five variants have been built in two decades to accommodate increasingly heavier satellites and meet the needs of institutional and commercial customers. Only one variant—Ariane 5 ECA—is currently commercially operated.
As of September 2018, Ariane 5 had accomplished 100 launches, with a straight run of 85 successes all versions included, making it one of the most reliable launchers in the world.
Ariane 5 is operated from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, alongside the Vega light launcher and the Russian Soyuz medium-lift launcher. Ariane 5 is set to be replaced by Ariane 6, a cheaper, even more powerful and versatile vehicle scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2020, after a transition period up to Ariane 5’s last launch in 2023.