PARIS, 4 Jan. 2009. The European Space Agency (ESA) selected Astrium for the initial development phase of its Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME) program that will integrate next-generation avionics and flight software into the spacecraft.
The teams at Astrium Space Transportation are working on the development of an entirely new upper stage for the launch vehicle. In addition to the avionics and flight software it will feature a new, re-ignitable Vinci engine, which will make it possible to optimize the insertion into orbit of the satellites and other spacecraft it transports and prolong their service life in orbit. The new upper stage for the Ariane ME will additionally benefit from improved reliability and safety, company officials say.
The ESA program aims to raise the payload capacity of Ariane 5 from 10 to 12 tons, an increase of 20 percent, Astrium officials say
The announcement comes just as Astrium is "about to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the very first Ariane launch on 24 December 1979," says Alain Charmeau, chief executive officer of Astrium Space Transportation."
The new Ariane 5 is expected to make its first commercial flight around 2017.