Europe’s Vega small launcher is set to demonstrate its extended capability to deploy multiple light satellites using its new versatile Small Satellites Mission Service (SSMS) dispenser, in the second half of 2018.
This demonstration provides the first of the launch opportunities under the new Light satellite, Low-cost Launch opportunity (LLLor L3) Initiative initiated at the ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in December 2016 with the aim to provide low-cost and regular launch services for European Institutional light satellites through full exploitation of the Ariane 6 and Vega C launch systems’ capabilities.
This first proof-of-concept flight using the current Vega launch system will demonstrate and validate standard innovative services for light satellites.
The SSMS dispenser with its modular design enables Vega to provide launch opportunities for light satellites with an overall mass ranging from 1 kg CubeSats up to 400 kg minisats with different alternative configurations and relevant combinations under a ‘rideshare’ concept.
Vega is designed to cope with a wide range of missions and payload configurations in order to respond to different market opportunities.
Unlike most small launchers, Vega is able to place multiple payloads into orbit. In particular, it offers configurations able to handle payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus additional small satellites.
Payload masses range from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. Vega is benchmarked to loft 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude circular orbit at 90° inclination. It is the ideal launcher for most scientific and Earth observation missions.
Named after the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere, Vega makes access to space easier, quicker and cheaper. It operates from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Vega is a 3 m-diameter single-body vehicle, standing 30 m tall with a liftoff mass of 137 tonnes. It has three solid-propellant stages and a liquid-propellant upper module for attitude and orbit control, and satellite release.
Vega officially became an ESA programme in June 1998, when the Agency inherited the small-launcher programme of Italy’s ASI space agency.
Following Vega’s debut on 13 February 2012, ESA’s Verta (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) programme was set up with the main objective of providing a framework for the smooth transition of Vega from development to exploitation.
This included securing the initial exploitation of Vega by supporting the development of complementary technical advances and demonstrating a range of capabilities and flexibility over five more launches.
Vega moved to full commercial exploitation in December 2015.
At the same time, ESA refined and improved the launch system configuration and operations. This lowered costs mainly by speeding up the launch campaign.
The Vega launches in 2015 (IXV, Sentinel-2A and LISA Pathfinder) displayed the capacity of the system to reach three missions per year, providing confidence to customers and helping Arianespace to maintain its lead in this market segment.
ESA’s Launchers Exploitation Accompaniment Programme, or LEAP, will ensure that Vega remains operational and that further improvements will reduce launch service costs.