Flawless Maiden Launch for Europe’s New Vega Rocket

[/caption]

Europe scored a major space success with today’s (Feb. 13) flawless maiden launch of the brand new Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The four stage Vega lifted off on the VV01 flight at 5:00 a.m. EST (10:00 GMT, 11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from a new launch pad in South America, conducted a perfectly executed qualification flight and deployed 9 science satellites into Earth orbit.

Vega is a small rocket launcher designed to loft science and Earth observation satellites.

Liftoff of Maiden Vega Rocket on Feb. 13, 2012 on VV01 flight from ESA Spaceport at French Guiana. Credit: ESA

The payload 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: [email protected] (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).

On 13 February 2012, the first Vega lifted off on its maiden flight from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja

Three of these cubesats were the first ever satellites to be built by Poland, Hungary and Romania. They were constructed by University students who were given a once in a lifetime opportunity by ESA to get practical experience and launch their satellites for free since this was Vega’s first flight.

The 30 meter tall Vega has been been under development for 9 years by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), French Space Agency (CNES). Seven Member States contributed to the program including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland as well as industry.

Vega's first launch, dubbed VV01, occurred on Feb 13, 2012 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It carried nine satellites into orbit: LARES, ALMASat-1 and seven Cubesats. Credits: ESA - J. Huart
ESA can now boast a family of three booster rockets that can service the full range of satellites from small to medium to heavy weight at their rapidly expanding South American Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center.

Vega joins Europe’s stable of launchers including the venerable Ariane V heavy lifter rocket family and the newly inaugurated medium class Russian built Soyuz booster and provides ESA with an enormous commercial leap in the satellite launching arena.

“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.

“It is a great day for ESA, its Member States, in particularly Italy where Vega was born, for European industry and for Arianespace.”

Dordain noted that an additional 200 workers have been hired in Guiana to meet the needs of Europe’s burgeoning space programs. Whereas budget cutbacks are forcing NASA and its contractors to lay off tens of thousands of people as a result of fallout from the global economic recession.

LARES, ALMASat-1 and CubeSats satellites integration for 1st Vega launch.
Credits: ESA, CNES, Arianespace, Optique Video du CSG, P. Baudon

ESA has already signed commercial contracts for future Vega launches and 5 more Vega rockets are already in production.

Vega’s light launch capacity accommodates a wide range of satellites – from 300 kg to 2500 kg – into a wide variety of orbits, from equatorial to Sun-synchronous.

“Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s Director of Launchers.

ESA’s new Vega rocket fully assembled on its launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Inaugural Vega Rocket Poised at Europe’s South American Spaceport

[/caption]

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

Video Duet – Soyuz Debut Blast off from the Amazon Jungle and Rockin’ Russian Rollout !

Watch the video of today’s debut lift off of a Russian Soyuz rocket from the edge of the Amazon jungle at the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana as it successfully carried the first two Galileo In-Orbit Validation satellites to space after an arduous 7 year struggle to mesh Russian and European technologies and cultures – a magnificent achievement that opens a wide realm of new commercial and science exploration possibilities to exploit space for humankind. Launch photos below and here.

Now have some real fun and enjoy this absolutely cool Rockin’ Russian music video showing a headless Soyuz rollout to the pad, an erection like you’ve never imagined and capping with the Galileo satellites. Guaranteed you’ve never seen struttin’ like this but will totally get the Soyuz experience in 2 minutes – give it a whirl. They never did it like this in Russia.

[/caption]

“This historic first launch of a genuine European system like Galileo was performed by the legendary Russian launcher that was used for Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, a launcher that will, from now on, lift off from Europe’s Spaceport,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

“These two historical events are also symbols of cooperation: cooperation between ESA and Russia, with a strong essential contribution of France; and cooperation between ESA and the European Union, in a joint initiative with the EU”.

First Soyuz lift from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on 21 October 2011. Credits: ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE - Optique Video du CSG, Service Optique
Soyuz inside the Mobile Launch Gantry after installation of Galileo satellites mounted inside Upper Composite. Credit: Claus Lippert/DLR

Read Ken’s continuing features about Soyuz from South America starting here:
Historic 1st Launch of Legendary Soyuz from South America
Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport

Read Ken’s features about Russia’s upcoming Phobos-Grunt launch from Baikonur here:
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff