Say goodbye to Europe's Ariane 5 rocket with these stunning final launch photos

Liftoff of Ariane 5 VA261 into the black night sky at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.
Liftoff of Flight VA261, at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, the final launch of the Ariane 5 rocket. (Image credit: ESA)

The most dependable rocket in Europe's spaceflight history has sung its swan song. 

The final launch of the Ariane 5 rocket took place on Wednesday (July 5) at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT), from the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. 

For its final mission, Ariane 5 launched a pair of communications satellites for the German and Italian governments. Ariane 5 began its operational career in 1996, and has stood as ESA's workhorse launch vehicle longer than any previous Ariane models.  

Related: Farewell, Ariane 5! Europe's workhorse rocket launches 2 satellites on final mission (video)

In its final flight, Ariane 5 successfully delivered its two payloads to geostationary orbit, but perhaps the most notable part of the launch took place in the seconds it took the rocket to clear the tower. 

The European Ariane-5 heavy rocket prior to departure from the Guyanese Space Center in Kourou, French Guyana on July 5, 2023. (Image credit: JODY AMIET/AFT via Getty Images)

The morning following the final launch, ESA tweeted a group of photos from liftoff. They feature some close-ups of the launch pad, with the fire from Ariane 5's formidable solid rocket boosters lighting the surrounding area like the sun.

Liftoff of Ariane 5 VA261 at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. (Image credit: ESA)

Another handful of images was also taken by photographer Jody Amiet, which feature other incredible shots from the historic launch.

Ariane 5 Flight VA261 brightens a cloudy sky just after sunset at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on July 5, 2023. (Image credit: ESA)

The two-stage rocket was built by Airbus Defense and Space, and managed by Arianespace for ESA and CNES, the French space agency.

Liftoff of Ariane 5 VA261 at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. (Image credit: ESA)

Now that Ariane 5 has closed out its launch manifest, Europe is left with a gap in available launch vehicles until the Ariane 6 is ready. 

However, delays in that rocket's development have continually extended the timeline for its expected completion. The most recent estimates have the rocket's first flight taking place in late 2023, but it may shift into 2024.

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Josh Dinner
Writer, Content Manager

Josh Dinner is's Content Manager. He is a writer and photographer with a passion for science and space exploration, and has been working the space beat since 2016. Josh has covered the evolution of NASA's commercial spaceflight partnerships, from early Dragon and Cygnus cargo missions to the ongoing development and launches of crewed missions from the Space Coast, as well as NASA science missions and more. He also enjoys building 1:144 scale models of rockets and human-flown spacecraft. Find some of Josh's launch photography on Instagram and his website, and follow him on Twitter, where he mostly posts in haiku.