(Sen) - The European Space Agency (ESA) is planning the second launch of its Vega rocket on May 3 from its spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana.
Vega is a single-body rocket with three solid-propellant stages and a liquid-propellant upper module for attitude and orbit control, and satellite release. Unlike most small launchers, Vega is able to place multiple payloads into orbit and ESA hope aims to make access to space easier, quicker and cheaper for smaller 300 to 2000 kg satellites used for many scientific and Earth observation missions.
After the first Vega (VV01) lifted off on February 13, 2012 on a flawless qualification flight, Antonio Fabrizi, ESA's Director of Launchers, said, "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."
The extended capabilities of Vega beyond the mission that was performed in the VV01 qualification flight have been made possible in part by the addition of Vespa (VEga Secondary Payload Adapter). Vespa allows for multiple payloads and their deployment into different orbits. On this mission, it will release three satellites into two different orbits.
Compared to the first Vega flight, VV02 will change both the inclinations and orbital altitudes for the satellites. This is a complex procedure and will result in a much longer mission, at 160 minutes it is more than double that of VV01.
Proba-V on Vespa adapter. Image credit ESA - Karim Mellab.
Proba-V carries a reduced version of the Vegetation camera currently flying on the Spot satellites to provide a daily overview of global vegetation growth. This will be the first payload released by Vespa into a Sun-synchronous polar orbit at 820 km altitude and an inclination of 98.73 degrees. At this point, the Vespa adapter will separate and Vega, through a series of five burns and coasts, moves into a second orbit at 668 km altitude and an inclination of 98.13 degrees for the second deployment of the two remaining payloads:
The Vietnam Natural Resources, Environment and Disaster Monitoring Satellite (VNRedsat) was built by Astrium for the Vietnamese government.
ESTCube-1 will test advanced solar sail technologies and help to establish an Estonian infrastructure for future space projects. It also showcases the possibility offered by this launcher to carry cubesats.
A final burn will deorbit the upper stage to ensure that it does not remain as a debris threat.
This second Vega launcher also has new flight software. To receive telemetry during the early phase of the flight, a new ground station has been built in the north of French Guiana.
This will be the first Vega launch operated by Arianespace on behalf of ESA, although ESA still remains responsible for the mission. Arianespace has been responsible for the procurement, acceptance and integration of the vehicle, managing the launch service and marketing. This launch should ease the way towards full autonomy of Arianespace and industry in exploiting this light-lift launcher.