THE UK IS TO INVEST $4.3 million in the European Space Agency's (ESA) Ariane 5 satellite-launcher programme to the year 2000 in a belated bid to capitalise on the potential of the booster in the satellite-launcher market.

The booster, which is to have its maiden flight from Kourou, French Guiana, on 15 May will be able to place into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), two satellites weighing a total of 5,900kg.

The Ariane 5 will be operated commercially by Arianespace from the third flight in early 1997. The Ariane 5 will eventually replace the Ariane 4. The UK has a 3% stake in the $3.5 billion Arianespace business.

The UK opted out of the Ariane 5 programme in 1987 when the Government incorrectly judged the rocket to be inextricably linked to ESA's pretensions for manned space flight, with the now-cancelled Hermes space-plane and the Columbus Space Station programme, ignoring the proven commercial-launcher potential.

As a result, UK companies have largely been left out of Ariane 5 development. Ian Taylor, the UK's science and technology minister, admits to the Government error in 1995 (Flight International, 27 September-3 October) and indicates that a small amount of funding could be allocated to the Ariane 5 programme.

UK participation will thus be focused primarily on the development of the first version of an up-rated Ariane 5, with lighter-weight fairing and solid-rocket boosters, increased liquid-propellant tankage and a Mk2 Vulcain cryogenic first-stage engine.

Source: Flight International