Space: Trois, Deux, Un... Sacre Bleu!

What went wrong with Aerospatiale's super-reliable launcher

It was designed to be the most reliable rocket launcher ever built. Before the flight of the Ariane 5 on June 4, officials at the European Space Agency (ESA) boasted that, based on statistical calculations, they had trimmed the chance of failure to 1.5%--or 1 out of 70 launches. But the overconfident promise tempted fate. Thirty seconds after blastoff, the unmanned launcher, developed at a cost of $7.8 billion, jerked mysteriously off course, broke apart, and finally exploded, destroying four scientific satellites worth $500 million, belonging to the ESA. It was the biggest space disaster in European history.

To continue reading this article you must be a Bloomberg Professional Service Subscriber.