Arianespace’s Ariane 5 launcher once again demonstrated its operational maturity and accuracy today by placing a seven-satellite payload into Sun-synchronous orbit.

Drawing of the Ariane 5 payload fairing shows the Helios 2A satellite (arrow A) and three of the six satellite payloads (arrows B, C and D).
Lifting off from the Spaceport in French Guiana at mid-day, the Ariane 5 Generic vehicle followed a northward trajectory to deploy its primary satellite payload – the Helios 2A military reconnaissance platform – in Sun-synchronous orbit, along with six auxiliary spacecraft.

In contrast to missions to geostationary orbit that have a long launch window, today’s northward flight had a precise moment for the ignition of its main cryogenic engine: 1:26 p.m., local Kourou time. The Ariane 5 was ready – and it lifted off right on time, under sunny French Guiana skies.

Helios 2A is the third spacecraft in the Helios observation satellite family to be launched by Ariane. Helios 1A was orbited in 1995 on Flight 75, followed by Helios 1B in December 1999 on Flight 124 – both of which used Ariane 4 launchers. The platform orbited today by Ariane 5 is the initial satellite in the second-generation Helios family. It weighed approximately 4,200 kg. at liftoff (9,240 lb.).

The Helios IIA platform was developed and built in a French-led program with Belgium and Spain. Project manager is France’s defense procurement agency (DGA), with the French CNES national space agency holding the lead responsibility for the satellite and its launch. Spacecraft manufacturer was EADS Astrium.

Ariane 5 released the Helios 2A spacecraft one hour after liftoff, which was followed by the rapid-sequence deployment of Flight 165’s six auxiliary payloads from a ring-shaped dispenser plate called ASAP (the acronym for: Ariane Structure for Auxiliary Passengers).

The deployment process started with Nanosat, a micro-satellite developed and built by the national aeronautical technology institute of Spain, INTA. It was followed rapidly by the simultaneous release of two Essaim electronic intelligence (ELINT) system demonstrator small-sats for the French DGA. The other two Essaim satellites then were separated. The sequence was completed when Parasol – a small satellite from CNES for the study of the Earth’s climate – was released from Ariane 5.

Today’s flight marked the 16th successful mission for Ariane 5.