Vega Launch – Europe’s Newest Satellite Launcher

Tomorrow, 13th February 2012 will see the launch of Europe’s newest satellite launch vehicle, Vega, from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Spaceport at Kourou, weather permitting. This first test flight Vega launch will carry 9 payloads – seven Cubesat satellites plus two Italian Space Agency satellites.

The video above provides an extremely interesting overview of the Vega programme. The project is controlled and managed from ESA’s ESRIN Centre for Earth Observation at Frascati, just south of Rome. An idyllic location, given it is at the heart of some of Italy’s finest vineyards. I know it well!

The Vega launcher has been designed specifically, following years of development, to launch medium and small payloads into orbit. The development sprang from work started in Italy during the 1960s following the launch of Europe’s first satellite, the San Marco 1, in 1964. Much of the launcher is built using spun carbon-fibre, very different from the conventional metal bodies used up to now. The P80 first stage of this 4-stage launcher uses 3,000km of carbon fibre to produce the largest 1st stage monolithic booster in the world.

The rocket consists of three solid fuel stages, plus a fourth liquid fuel cryogenic stage. This final stage contains the onboard computers and navigation equipment – the brains of the launcher.
Electric actuators are used to direct the rocket nozzles – essential for accurate pitch and yaw pointing for injecting the satellite(s) into the correct orbit. Up to now such controls have relied on hydraulic actuators.

Avio, located at Colleferro 60km south of Rome, is the manufacturer of much of the launcher. Avio has a multi-decade experience, and has spent 14 years providing the booster stages of the Ariane 5 programme.

Wishing Vega success for tomorrow!

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