Inaugural Vega Rocket Poised at Europe’s South American Spaceport

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Final preparations are in full swing for the inaugural flight of Europe’s new light launcher – the Vega booster – from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Launch crews are preparing the new rocket for blastoff as early as Feb 9, 2012 from the new Vega launch site at Kourou.

Vega has been under development for 9 years by ESA and its partners, Italian space agency ASI, French space agency CNES and industry.

The 30 meter tall Vega will join ESA’s venerable Ariane rocket family and the newly inaugurated Soyuz as the third class of booster rockets to launch from ESA’s rapidly expanding South American Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center.

1st Vega Rocket at pad. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012

This gives ESA an enormous commercial leap and wide ranging capability to launch all types of satellites from small to big and heavy.

The 4 stage Vega rocket is now fully assembled at the launch pad for the initial qualification flight dubbed VV1. The launch window stretches for a few days beyond Feb. 9.

The Vega VV1 qualification flight will carry 9 satellites to orbit.

The payloads are housed inside the ‘upper composite’ composed of the payload fairing and adapter and were integrated on top of the AVUM fourth stage by pad workers on Jan. 24, who completed and verified all the electrical and mechanical connections and links.

Fully assembled Vega VV01 on pad. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012

The satellites aboard include the LARES laser relativity satellite, ALMASat-1 from ASI and seven CubeSats from an assortment of European Universities.

Vega's upper composite, comprising LARES, ALMASat-1, seven CubeSats and the fairing, was transferred to the pad on 24 January and added to the vehicle at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Credits: ESA - M. Pedoussaut, 2012

The main tasks remaining before the maiden flight are the final checkout of the assembled vehicle, the last launch countdown rehearsal and the fuelling of the restartable AVUM 4th stage with liquid propellants.

The Vega launch site is located at the previous ELA-1 complex, originally used for Ariane 1 and Ariane 3 missions and has been rebuilt and upgraded.

Fully assembled Vega VV01 on pad. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja, 2012

The Vega rocket is specifically designed to fill a market gap in ESA’s satellite launch capabilities, namely the smaller, lightweight science and earth observation satellites.

It can launch payloads ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg in mass, depending on the customers orbital requirements.

Vega affords ESA full market coverage by complementing the medium and heavy weight payload categories covered by the Soyuz and Ariane V rockets.

1st Fully assembled Vega on launch pad for Inaugural Flight - February 2012. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja

Watch Universe Today for Vega maiden launch coverage and special launch pictures

Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport

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A Russian Soyuz-2 rocket sits poised for its first ever blast off in less than 24 hours from a brand new launch pad built in the jungles of French Guiana, South America by the European Space Agency (ESA) .

The payload for the debut liftoff of the Soyuz ST-B booster consists of the first pair of operational Galilieo satellites, critical to Europe’s hopes for building an independent GPS navigation system in orbit.

Soyuz VS01, the first Soyuz flight from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, will lift off on 20 October 2011. The rocket will carry the first two satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit. Credit:ESA - S. Corvaja

The Soyuz VS01 mission is set to soar on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 6:34 a.m. EDT (1034 GMT ) from Europe’s new South American pad, specially built for the Soyuz rocket. The three stage rocket was rolled out 600 meters horizontally to the launch pad and vertically raised to its launch position.

Soyuz VS01 on launch pad. Soyuz VS01vehicle was rolled out horizontally on its erector from the preparation building to the launch zone and then raised into the vertical position. The ‘Upper Composite’, comprising the Fregat upper stage, payload and fairing, was also transferred and added onto the vehicle from above, completing the very first Soyuz on its launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport. Soyuz VS01 will lift off on 20 October 2011. The rocket will carry the first two satellites of Europe’s Galileo navigation system into orbit. Credit: ESA - S. Corvaja

The two Galileo satellites were mated to the Fregat-MT upper stage, enclosed inside their payload fairing and then hoisted atop the Soyuz rocket. They should seperate from the upper stage about 3.5 hous after launch.

Because French Guiana is so close to the equator, the Soyuz gains a significant boost in performance from 1.7 tons to 3 tons due to the Earth’s greater spin.

This marks the first time in history that the renowned Soyuz workhorse will blast off from outside of Kazakhstan or Russia and also the start of orbital construction of Europe’s constellation of 30 Gallileo satellites.

28 more of the navigation satellites, built by the EADS consortium based in Germany, will be lofted starting in 2012 aboard the medium class Soyuz rockets.

French Guiana is already home to Europe’s venerable Ariane rocket family and will soon expand further to include the new Vega rocket for smaller class satellites.

ESA will begin live streaming coverage starting about an hour before the planned launch time of 6:34 a.m. EDT (1034 GMT)

Soyuz VS01 poised for launch on Oct. 20, 2011. Credit: ESA - S. Corvaja