In 1883, Russian schoolteacher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky realized that rocket propulsion would be possible in the vacuum of space. He imagined a multi-stage rocket that would serve as a blueprint for future research on space transport. A little over 70 years later, in 1957, the Soviet Union sent Sputnik 1, the world’s first man-made satellite, into Earth orbit.
In the 1970s, the space launch market was split between the United States and the Soviet Union. As this market matured, the focus shifted from performance to a service-oriented perspective, signalling the birth of commercial space. In response, Europe decided in 1973 to launch the Ariane programme to assure its own independent access to space. The first Ariane test flight was successfully completed on 24 December 1979.
Very quickly, technical success spawned commercial success. In 12 years, a series of launchers from Ariane 1 to Ariane 4 sent aloft more than half of the world’s commercial satellites. They have since been succeeded by the more-powerful Ariane 5, with the goal of confirming Europe’s pre-eminent position in the civil space launch market, in spite of stiff competition from the United States, Russia, China and Japan.
|ARIANE 1 to 4|
|Initiator||ESA, from proposals crafted by CNES|
|Maiden flight||Ariane 1: 24 December 1979|
Ariane 2: 31 May 1986
Ariane 3: 4 August 1984
Ariane 4: 15 June 1988
|Technical features||Ariane 1: 210 t and 47.4 m|
Ariane 2: 219 t and 48.9 m
Ariane 3: 240 t and 48.9 m
Ariane 4: 245 to 484 t and 54.9 to 58.7 m
|Lift capacity||Ariane 1: 1.85 t|
Ariane 2: 2.21 t
Ariane 3: 2.72 t
Ariane 4: 2.13 to 4.95 t
|Launch base||Guiana Space Centre (CSG)|