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The European space industry is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first launch of the Ariane rocket.

On Christmas Eve, 1979, Europe finally got its own launcher to develop a space programme. One of the aims was to become a world leader in the launching of satellites. Since then about 190 Ariane rockets of all classes have been launched, with a high success rate.

Frederic D’Allest, who was the director of launchers in 1979, said: “We were very lucky to have been there during that time. Everything had to be created, an entire launcher had to be made from scratch. Often with these launchers it was a succession of improvements of the different stages. Everything had to be done from scratch. We then had to invent a marketing tool, the double launch policy; we had to invent a whole series of things that were really exciting.”

Ariane is launched from the European spaceport in French Guinana. This position near the Equator is said to be ideal for launching rockets as less energy is needed to put heavy payloads into orbit from here, compared to other latitudes. After Ariane 1 came Ariane 2, 3, 4 and 5, with improved engines and bigger payload capacities.

Jean-Pierre Morin, a former deputy director at the Guiana Space Centre, said: “Ariane has a reputation for reliability. Nine failures out of some 190 launches. I’ll leave it to you to do the sums. More than 19 out of 20. Yes, it’s a great score.”

Ariane is the result of teamwork among thousands of experts, including workers from the European Space Agency and its member nations, the French national space agency, and Arianspace, the commercial operator of the launch system. A new generation Ariane 6 is already on the drawing board, expected to come into service by about 2025.

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