ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi
On 23 March 2012, an Ariane 5 rocket took off from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana carrying the third European ATV space transporter to the International Space Station (ISS). I had the opportunity to witness the launch on location together with the representatives of other ESA member states, and to discuss future activities in the European space sector. It was an ideal opportunity to prepare the formal agreements for the next few weeks and months leading up to the ESA Ministerial Conference.
A rocket launch is an exciting experience, every time. In the last few hours of the countdown, tension mounts minute by minute; I was not able to fully relax until we were told, after the countdown (in French, as we were in French Guiana), that the rocket motors had been ignited. The night sky was lit up as the Ariane-5ES blasted off at 01:34 local time; moments later, the roar of the rockets reached the ears of the observers. And just a few seconds later, the rocket disappeared from sight as it shot right out of viewing range. Tension remained in the control room, until the various signals advising of successful separation of the solid fuel boosters, separation of the main stage, separation of the upper stage and deployment of the solar panels started to come in.
At 04:00 local time, we returned to the hotel filled with positive impressions and experiences; we were already up a few hours later to complete our programme of visits to the launch facilities (Vega, Ariane 5 and Soyuz) . Afterwards, we returned to Cayenne to board our return flight to Paris. Our entire stay in French Guiana lasted about 24 hours. Apart from the real reason for our trip, which was to be available to journalists from all over the world during the launch preparations and the actual launch itself, we were able to use the time on our return flight to have informal discussions about forthcoming decisions and exchange views and opinions with representatives from other countries. Alongside the representatives from ESA member states, other countries such as Japan, the United States, Poland, Russia and China were also represented.
Overall, and despite the very taxing agenda, this trip was well worthwhile and, once again, demonstrated the possibilities open to Europe by virtue of its technological capabilities. It is then that all the discussions, frequently held in a series of sessions, concerning European access to space, are finally experienced, seen, heard and felt, and the value is sensed in a very practical way.
Fig. above: In the early hours of 23 March 2012, the Ariane-5ES carrier rocket disappears into the low cloud ceiling. Credit: Arianespace.
Fig. at bottom / right: ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi blasts off on 23 March 2012 at 05:34 Central European Time (01:34 hours local time) on board an Ariane-5ES from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana ,en route to the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: ESA/S.Corvaja.