European Advanced Reentry Demonstrator: A Program to Watch

by Donald J. Butz, S.U. #3507
77 Medbrook Way, Columbus, Ohio 43214-3603

The October 26, 1998 issue of the U.S. aerospace industry publication Aviation Week and Space Technology, AWST, (visit their website at provided a great summary of an exciting European spacecraft development and testing program, the Advanced Reentry Demonstrator (ARD). As noted by AWST, this mission is significant for two reasons: it is the "first complete space mission, from launch to recovery, ever flown by a European spacecraft", and the Global Positioning System (GPS) was used to assist in navigation, guidance and control. The unmanned ARD spacecraft was developed by Aerospatiale (visit their web site at for a press release and photographs which can be found by searching within the site). The shape of the ARD is directly derived from the U.S. Apollo vehicle and test data. The vehicle flown is about a half-scale version of the intended future operational space transportation system. On October 21, 1998, this 6173 pound (2,800 kg) capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after liftoff on the Ariane 5 booster, followed by a long suborbital flight. Maximum altitude was reportedly 830 km (512 miles!), and the maximum reentry velocity was about 16,750 miles per hour (27,130 km/hr), and the spacecraft maneuvered during reentry toward its intended impact location. It landed just 3 mi or 4.9 km (rather than the expected 12.3 mi. or 20 km) from its intended splash point, near the Marquesa Islands south of Hawaii, after a 66 minute long flight. ARD is a testbed for development of future unmanned and manned reusable space transportation system configurations, components and materials, and features a maneuvering capability much wider (10X) than the U.S. space shuttle orbiter. Do any readers know of any covers serviced for this significant event in international spacecraft development? Also, according to AWST, Aerosdpatiale, and various other sources, this launch was significant in that it completed the qualification flight series for the Ariane 5 booster, and, in placing a dummy Maqsat satellite into orbit, demonstrated the multiple firing capability of the Aestus upper stage motor on Ariane’s second stage.

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Last modified on 4 November, 1998.