ESA’s new launch vehicle Vega is now ready to operate alongside the Ariane 5 and Soyuz launchers, after a successful qualification flight this morning from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The launch was initially planed for the end of January as previously reported on this site, but has been plagued with delays through out its journey. The new launcher passed its final hurdle on Saturday at Europe’s Spaceport, the Launch Readiness Review, and was finally cleared for take off. The first Vega lifted off at 10:00 GMT (11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from the new launch pad, and conducted a flawless qualification flight.
The first mission, designated VV01 has a payload that consists of two Italian satellites – ASI’s LARES laser relativity satellite and the University of Bologna’s ALMASat-1, as well as seven picosatellites provided by European universities: e-St@r (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).
With Vega ESA is extending the family of launchers available at the spaceport, and Europe now covers the full range of launch needs, from small science and Earth observation satellites to the largest missions like ESA’s supply freighters to the International Space Station. Vega has a light launch capacity that accommodates a wide range of satellites from 300 kg, to 2500 kg. It can also reach a wide variety of orbits, from equatorial to Sun-synchronous. Europe’s now has the capacity to handle a wide range of different payloads with the Ariane 5 heavy-lifter, the Soyuz medium-class launcher and now finally the Vega with a light load capacity.
“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 Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.
The Vega launcher development started in 2003 with seven Member States contributing to the programme: Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland