An engine cooling circuit problem is being blamed for the loss of the Ariane 5 ESC-A rocket, blown up after losing control shortly after its launch from Kourou, French Guiana, on 11 December. Two communications satellites, Hot Bird 7 and Stentor, together worth $600 million, were also destroyed.

Early findings suggest the fault in the Vulcain 2 first-stage core engine developed 96s after launch, before the rocket started showing "erratic behaviour" and losing altitude. It was destroyed by a range safety officer at T+456.

The failure is another setback for the European space programme. Two launches are likely to go ahead as planned: an Ariane 4, carrying the New Skies NSS 6 satellite, on 17 December, and the next baseline Ariane 5, carrying the European Space Agency's $1.4 billion Rosetta comet explorer, on 12 January. But further ESC-As will be delayed.

Source: Flight International