While working at the NASA Johnson Space Center during the 1970s, astrophysicist Donald Kessler predicted that collisions between space debris would become increasingly common as the density of space debris increases in orbit around the Earth – creating a cascading effect. Since 2005, the amount of debris in orbit has followed an exponential growth curve, confirming Kessler’s prediction.
Given that the problem is only going to get worse in the coming years, there is a growing demand for technologies that can remove space debris. Following a competitive process, the ESA recently contracted the Swiss startup ClearSpace Today to create the world’s first debris-removing space mission. This mission, known as ClearSpace-1, is expected to launch by 2025 and will help pave the way for more debris removal missions.
The second flight of ESA’s newest launch vehicle has successfully sent three different satellites to space. Launching at 02:06 GMT on 7 May from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, the Vega rocket carried two Earth observation satellites — ESA’s Proba-V, Vietnam’s VNREDSat-1A — and Estonia’s first satellite, the ESTCube-1 technology demonstrator were released into different orbits. The complex mission required five upper-stage boosts, with the flight lasting about twice as long as its first launch, in February 2012.
ESA officials said the success demonstrates the Vega rocket’s versatility.
Watch the launch video below.
“It is another great day for ESA, for its Member States and for Europe,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA. “Thanks to decisions taken by Member States, ESA and European industry are demonstrating once again their capabilities of innovation. Among the Member States, special mention goes to Italy which has led the Vega Programme, Belgium which has led the Proba projects at ESA, and France which has led the development and maintenance of the European spaceport here in Kourou. We are also proud to have made possible the launch of the first satellite from Estonia.”
The three solid-propellant stages performed flawlessly and after two burns of the liquid-propellant upper stage, the Proba?V was released into a circular orbit at an altitude of 820 km, over the western coast of Australia, some 55 minutes into flight.
After releasing Proba-V, the upper stage performed a third burn and the top half of the egg-shaped Vega Secondary Payload Adapter was ejected. After a fourth burn to circularize the orbit at an altitude of 704 km, VNREDSat-1A was released 1 hour 57 minutes into flight. ESTCube?1 was ejected from its dispenser three minutes later.
The fifth and last burn put the spent upper stage on a trajectory that ensures a safe reentry that complies with new debris mitigation regulations.
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.
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: e-St@r (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The satellites aboard include the LARES laser relativity satellite, ALMASat-1 from ASI and seven CubeSats from an assortment of European Universities.
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.
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.
Watch Universe Today for Vega maiden launch coverage and special launch pictures