ESA’s Vega vehicle succeeds in maiden flight

13 Feb 2012

The Vega lifts off from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana

After less than a decade of development, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Vega vehicle has this morning carried out a flawless qualification flight from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Vega is now ready to operate alongside the Ariane 5 and Soyuz launchers, the ESA has confirmed.

Vega lifted off at 10am GMT (11am CET, 7am Dublin time) from the new launch pad in French Guiana.

During the VV01 mission, a large amount of data was collected on Vega’s performance, as well as the environment experienced by the payloads.

Its reference mission is 1,500 kg into a 700 km-high circular sun-synchronous orbit. Vega’s light launch capacity can accommodate a range of satellites – from 300 kg to 2500 kg – into a variety of orbits, ranging from equatorial to sun-synchronous.

The ESA said this morning that Vega will add to Europe’s set of launch services next to the existing Ariane 5 heavy lifter and the Soyuz medium-class launcher.

Operating from French Guiana, the ESA said the three launchers will improve the efficiency of Europe’s launch infrastructure, as they can share its operating costs over many launches.  
The ESA said the Vega programme will now enter a new phase, called VERTA: the Vega Research, Technology and Accompaniment programme.

The next flight is scheduled for early 2013, when the Vega will carry ESA’s Proba-V remote sensing satellite and multiple auxiliary payloads.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA director-general, said this morning that today’s launch was a great day for ESA, its member states, and especially for Italy, where Vega was born.

“In a little more than three months, Europe has increased the number of launchers it operates from one to three, widening significantly the range of launch services offered by the European operator Arianespace. There is not anymore one single European satellite which cannot be launched by a European launcher service,” said ESA head Dordain this morning.

Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s director of Launchers, spoke about how, in less than a decade, the Vega project became a reality.

He said the ESA had the technical support of the Italian and French space agencies, plus about 40 industrial companies co-ordinated by the prime contractor ELV SpA.

Vega launcher development started in 2003. Seven member states contributed to the programme – Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

European effort 

“Today is a moment of pride for Europe, as well as those around 1,000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Fabrizi.

Arianespace, its commercial operator, has already signed the first commercial contract for Vega. The ESA has confirmed more contracts are being negotiated.

After an open competition, Arianespace was awarded the contract in December to launch the Sentinel-2B and Sentinel-3B satellites on the Vega launcher. This launch will be part of ESA’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic