November 20, 2020

Assembly and launch facilities

Ariane 5 is operated from CNES’s Guiana Space Centre (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana. Before being shipped across the Atlantic, the launcher elements manufactured all over Europe are sent to the ports of Le Havre, Rotterdam and Bremen. They are then loaded in containers onto two ships, the MN Toucan and MN Colibri. On arrival in French Guiana at the port of Pariacabo, they are trucked to the CSG in an oversize convoy. For safety reasons, Ariane 5 activities are spread across different infrastructures covering more than 2,000 hectares (21 km²) of the CSG’s 69,000 hectares. The main buildings through which Ariane 5 elements pass on their way to launch are detailed below.

Solid-rocket boosters: assembly of booster segments and filling with solid propellant.

  • UPG propellant facility (virtual tour): over an area of 300 hectares, 40 buildings share the task of fabricating solid propellant and filling the central S2 and aft S3 segments of the EAP solid booster stages (the forward S1 segment is pre-filled in Italy).
  • BIP booster integration building (virtual tour): the three booster segments are assembled and their guidance system, electrical and pyrotechnic systems added, as well as the attach system supporting Ariane 5’s core body.
  • BSE booster storage building (virtual tour): this building can safely store up to four EAP booster stages, each filled with 240 tonnes of solid propellant. It thus enables teams to keep ahead of production and operate a just-in-time process so as not to compromise the launch schedule.

A booster is rolled out from the BSE storage building to the BIL launcher integration building. © 2006 ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE-CSG video and photo department

Payload: satellite preparation and fuelling.
EPCU payload preparation facility (virtual tour): satellites are prepped for mating under the fairing and filled with fuel. The S5 building has three separate wings each connected by transfer corridors between the preparation and fuelling halls:
  • S5A : opérations de remplissage des petits satellites (4 tonnes de capacité).
  • S5B : peut accueillir des satellites à la fois en cours d’intégration ou de remplissage (10 tonnes de capacité).
  • S5C : 700 m2 de salles blanches pour la préparation des plusieurs satellites en même temps, dans les standards de qualité et de sécurité.

The Johannes Kepler ATV 2 spacecraft is prepared in the EPCU building. © 2010 CNES/ESA/Arianespace/Philippe Baudon

Launch campaign: integration, verification and transfer of launcher (approx. 30 working days)

  • BIL launcher integration building (virtual tour): the different elements of Ariane 5 shipped from Europe—the main cryogenic stage, vehicle equipment bay (VEB) and upper stage—are assembled vertically in this 58-metre-high building. The two solid booster stages from the BSE building are then added and the launcher is erected on a launch table 25 metres deep and 20 metres across with its 58-metre-high umbilical mast, which support the launcher as it is trucked on rails. This operation lasts about two weeks, after which Ariane 5 is towed the 1.3 kilometres to the final assembly building.
  • BAF final assembly building (virtual tour): this fully air-conditioned 90-metre-high building is where the payload is integrated. The fairing protecting the satellites is mated atop the launcher, which after about a week of prepping and checking is ready to roll out to the launch pad. Helium filling operations are performed 22 hours prior to launch, but cryogenic fuelling takes place at the last minute on the pad, as the propellants need to be maintained at very low temperatures, –183°C for the liquid oxygen and –253°C for the liquid hydrogen.
  • ELA-3 launch complex (virtual tour): eight hours before lift-off, the launcher is rolled out from the BAF to the launch area (ZL3). The table and launcher weigh some 1,800 tonnes and advance at a speed of 4 km/h to the pad. The ELA-3 launch pad comprises a metal tower (called the Cazes tower) that acts as a windshield. The EPC core stage and then the ESC cryogenic upper stage are filled with their liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellant. These two operations last five hours in all. An 80-metre-high water tower with a capacity of 1,500 m3 is located away from the pad. At lift-off, 30 m3 of water per second floods the launch table to protect it from thermal and acoustic shock. This also makes the gases heavier and cools the three flame trenches—one for the main stage and two for the EAP solid booster stages—that channel gases and flames away from the pad.

Ariane 5 is rolled out from the BAF final assembly building to its ELA-3 launch pad. The Vega launch pad can be seen top right. Credits: ESA - Stephane Corvaja

Ariane 5 fully integrated in the BIL building. © 2015 ESA/CNES/Arianespace/ CSG video and photo department - S/Martin.

On leaving the BAF final assembly building, Ariane 5 is ready for launch and rolled out to the launch pad. © 2017 ESA/CNES/Arianespace/ CSG video and photo department - P. Baudon

Launch: mission tracking

  • CDL3 launch centre (virtual tour): this is where Arianespace keeps track of the launch campaign from assembly through to lift-off. Two control rooms enable two Ariane 5 launch campaigns to be conducted concurrently: room n°2 monitors operations at the BIL integration building, then room n°1 takes over up to launch zone n°3. CDL3 is 2.5 kilometres from the ELA-3 launch pad.
  • Control centre, comprising notably the Jupiter 2 building (virtual tour): from the Jupiter room, the control centre receives all the data on Ariane 5’s systems and on its speed and trajectory.
  • Tracking and telemetry stations: after launch, downrange stations take over as the launcher flies over the Atlantic and Africa and relay telemetry received from Ariane 5 to the CSG. The Galliot station in Kourou (virtual tour) on the southern peak of the Montagne des Pères is the first on the flight trajectory for both eastward and northward launches.

The Jupiter 2 control room. © 2017 ESA/CNES/Arianespace/ CSG video and photo department - P. Baudon.

The antenna of the Galliot tracking station, as Ariane 5 ECA lifts off in the background on 11 September 2014. © CNES/ESA/Arianespace/ CSG video and photo department - P Baudon

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