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Ariane 4 - A challenge for Europe's space industry

Responding to market needs

At the beginning of 1980, the Ariane series’ prospects did not look good. In 1981, the reusable US space shuttle enjoyed its first success. It could carry large payloads well beyond the capabilities of Ariane 1 and 3.

In order to market Ariane, it was necessary to offer a launcher superior to its immediate competitors, the Atlas and Delta rockets.

At the same time, the demand for launchers became increasingly diversified, and satellites grew bigger and bigger. These rapid changes motivated the decision to build a new launcher to meet market expectations, based on the experience gained with the preceding Ariane series.
First launch of Ariane 4 on June 15th, 1988. Crédits : CNES/ESA/Arianespace

First launch of Ariane 4 on June 15th, 1988. Crédits : CNES/ESA/Arianespace

CNES proposed the Ariane 4 programme, which received French government approval in 1981, followed by ESA's accord in 1982. Nearly 60 companies from 11 European countries contributed to the project. France financed 52%, and its position as project manager also gave it responsibility for programme development and technical oversight.

Ariane 4's advantages

The launcher entered service on 15 June 1988. With the experience gained from its predecessors, the programme set ambitious objectives.

Ariane 4 stood out thanks to its modular approach. Six versions offered the ability to accommodate single or dual launches for a wide range of satellites weighing from 2,000 to 4,450 kg. The 6 variants differed in the type of boosters, using liquid or solid fuel. This original approach made the launcher very flexible in its operation.
5 of the 6 versions of Ariane 4. Crédits : ESA

The 6 versions of Ariane 4

  Ariane 40     Ariane 42 P      Ariane 44 P     Ariane 42 L     Ariane 44 L    Ariane 44 LP
 ---  2 SPBs *  4 SPBs 2 LPBs ** 4 LPBs   2 SPBs + 2 LPBs
 Maximum lift capacity to geostationary transfer orbit
 2,100 kg  2,930 kg  3,460 kg  3,480 kg 4 220 kg  4,720 kg
 * SPB: solid-propellant strap-on booster
** LPB: liquid-propellant strap-on booster

Undeniable success

In just a few years, Ariane 4 captured nearly 60% of the world’s commercial launch services market, serving both European and international clients.

The keys to its success are its exceptional flexibility and excellent organization. Since March 1995, Ariane 4 has registered 73 straight launch successes—a world record for a commercial launcher.