Airbus Defence and Space

The ‘Ariane spirit’, by Venancio Uribarri

Of all the staff working at the Barajas site, Venancio Uribarri is probably the person who has been the most involved in the Ariane programme. His lengthy career at Airbus Defence and Space has made him a leading light in the Spanish space industry, prized for his knowledge of just about every aspect of Ariane.

What was your role in the Ariane programme?

“I began getting involved in the Ariane project in 1984 when we were still working at the Getafe site – an emblematic CASA site (CASA and CRISA together form Airbus Defence and Space España today) since its earliest days dating back to 1924 and now used by Airbus and Airbus Military. The space unit that was formed in 1966 was transferred to Barajas in 1986.

Ever since then – for a grand total of more than 20 years – I have worked as the head of the Vehicle Equipment Bay (VEB) programme for CASA, dealing with the structure of the VEB for Ariane 5. And it has certainly been a challenging programme, since up until a few years ago VEBs were not a recurrent product, which meant we had to update the design for the various different load configurations of each flight.

I also headed various payload adapter programmes for Ariane 4 and Ariane 5, specifically the 1194 and 937 models. These conical structures link the satellite to the launcher while it is being carried into orbit. Delivered directly to Kourou, it was a product in which we took great pride.”

The first VEB made from carbon fibre in 2006.
The first VEB made from carbon fibre in 2006.

What does Ariane mean to you?

“I have basically devoted the majority of my working life to the Ariane programme. Back when I started working on the Ariane project, engineers were still carrying around boxes full of ticker tape to be processed by ‘the computer’ operated by the company in Getafe.

The start of the programme was incredibly challenging and we were delighted to see the programme become such a success. The start of Spanish involvement in the VEB actually dates back to 1975, when the first two elements of Ariane 1 taken on by CASA – the inter-tank and forward skirt – had already been underway for two years. The manufacturing process developed for the VEB in Ariane 1 was kept in use for Ariane 2 and 3, and in fact no major modifications were made to the VEB’s manufacturing process until Ariane 4 came along with its more powerful, re-designed launcher. Ariane 4 also saw contracts awarded for the Pogo valves and power switching modules (BMO and back-up) as well as work on the consoles for the launch site. In 1982, carbon fibre was finally put to use in the design of the VEB in Ariane 4. As well as creating a highly reliable launcher, it also provided CASA with the basis for transforming itself into a centre of excellence in composite materials a number of years later. In the wake of the VEB we then saw significant developments in the payload adapters, which also began to utilise carbon fibre. Nevertheless, it was the Ariane 5 that truly provided a quantum leap with the introduction of new structures for the upper stage (VEB, storable propellant stage, 3936 cone, inter-stages), all of which the company proposed to manufacture using carbon fibre. This became known as the ‘carbonisation of aluminium’.

This is just one of the many reasons why I feel it was an honour to have played such an active role in achieving that success.”

What aspect of your Ariane career had the most impact on you?

Venancio in his office in Barajas, Madrid.
Venancio in his office in Barajas, Madrid.

“Things haven’t always run according to plan! It has taken a huge number of meetings, business trips and discussions to get to where we are today: celebrating 30 years of Ariane. I remember so many of these because I was involved right from the start. One of the most impressive things was the way we worked together as a team on a European level with people and companies from so many different countries, all of us sharing that indefatigable ‘Ariane spirit’ that helped us to tackle and solve the problems we faced, however complex they seemed at first. Regardless of the difficulties and setbacks we encountered, we never lost heart.”

Launcher SystemAriane 4Ariane 5