Tag Archives: Vega

Contract to build upgraded Vega rocket signed

The competition heats up: The European Space Agency today signed a contract to develop an upgraded version of its Vega rocket.

With respect to the VEGA configuration currently in operation, VEGA C aims to increase the load capacity of the orbital launcher up to 50%. Together with a further increase in operational flexibility, while maintaining its unrivalled orbital precision, it is expected to expand the capability to transport in the same flight a larger number of small satellites, in different orbital planes, or larger satellites. The new version of VEGA will be flight qualified in late 2018 for an entry into service as early as 2019. The group of countries which already participated in the development of VEGA, with Italy playing a major role with a 65% participation, welcomes now the entry of Germany.

I get the impression from this article that Vega is being used by ESA to spread the pork around, since to get Ariane 6 built they had to agree to not do so and give the work and control entirely to Airbus Safran. I thus wonder how competitive Vega will truly be.

Test flight of Europe’s first prototype space plane has been rescheduled

The competition heats up: Preparations have resumed for a February 11 test flight of a European prototype space plane, initially scheduled for November but cancelled at the last minute because managers suddenly discovered its launch path was going to go over land.

The launch trajectory of the IXV space plane on a suborbital trajectory will differ from the Vega rocket’s previous flights, which flew north from the space center with satellites heading for high-inclination polar orbits. The launch of IXV will head east from Vega’s launch pad, and the geometry of the French Guiana coastline means it will fly over land in the first phase of the launch sequence.

Officials said they slightly adjusted the launch track to alleviate the the safety concern.

The four-stage Vega rocket was stacked on the launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the IXV spacecraft was about to be fueled with hydrazine maneuvering propellant when officials announced the delay in October. A ship tasked with retrieving the space plane after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean had already left port in Italy when news of the launch delay was released.

I remain suspicious about the cause of the delay in November. How could they not have known about the launch trajectory until the last second? Instead, I suspect it occurred because of politics higher up in ESA related to Italian, German, and French tensions over the future of Arianespace. The Italians are the lead on this space plane project, to the apparent chagrin of the French, who mostly run the launch facility in French Guiana. Moreover, it appears the Italians have generally sided with the Germans against the French in the Ariane 6 design negotiations. I wonder if the delay was instigated by higher management in an effort to influence those negotiations.

Controversy surrounding IXV flight cancellation

Italian officials are suggesting politics or incompetence for the sudden cancellation Wednesday of the November test flight of Europe’s IXV experimental spaceplane.

ESA and CNES officials up to now have either declined to comment or, in the case of ESA, said they were at a loss to explain why a program whose mission profile has not changed in several years is now suddenly stalled for [range] safety issues that in principle should have been aired and resolved long ago.

One official, saying he could not believe that the two agencies simply forgot to evaluate the safety issues, said he preferred to suspect political motives. “Look, we are about to send a spacecraft and lander to Mars, in one year,” this official said. “Europe has rendezvoused with a comet a decade after the [Rosetta comet-chaser] satellite was launched. You want me to believe that somehow the agencies just forgot to evaluate safety? That is too far-fetched. I would rather believe there is some political motive.”

The claim is that no one ever evaluated the range issues in sending the Vega rocket to the east instead of its normal polar orbit trajectory. The Italian officials are suggesting that either the officials who cancelled the mission are incompetent, or that their competition with France within ESA over launch vehicles (Ariane 6 vs Vega) prompted the cancellation.

Europe’s lead launch-vehicle nation is France, which initially balked at participating in the Vega program. A French minister said that in Europe, launch vehicles are French. The French government declined to allow the export, to Italy, of the avionics suite that guides Vega, forcing Italy to develop its own. Italy has since done so and successfully flown it on Vega. As it stands now, one official said, France must accept the idea that with Vega, Italy has led development of a vehicle that at least in principle resembles an intercontinental ballistic missile. “Some people don’t like that,” this official said.

Either way, this cancellation combined with the difficult and extended disagreements within ESA over replacing Ariane 5 suggest that the future of this European partnership is becoming increasingly shaky.

Arianespace today scrubbed the third launch of its new Vega rocket at T-minus 10 minutes due to a technical problem.

Arianespace today scrubbed the third launch of its new Vega rocket at T-minus 10 minutes due to a technical problem.

The reliability of Arianespace’s rockets has always been the company’s big selling point, so a launch scrub is very unusual for them. Then again, this is only the third launch of Vega, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they are still working out the kinks.

Arianespace will not be able to set its launch manifest for the remainder of this year until late July.

The competition heats up: Arianespace will not be able to set its launch manifest for the remainder of this year until late July.

The year’s third Ariane 5 mission is scheduled for launch in late July carrying the large Alphasat satellite for mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat of London and the European Space Agency (ESA); and India’s Insat-3D telecommunications satellite.

Beyond that, Israel said, it is unclear which commercial payloads will be placed on which of the two remaining Ariane 5 flights, scheduled for this fall, or what the Ariane 5 manifest looks like for 2014. A big question is whether Arianespace has any slots open in the Ariane 5 manifest in 2014 to accommodate new customers who want to switch to Ariane 5 because their selected vehicle is late.

This article not only suggests that Arianespace has more business than it can handle, it is also provides evidence that the company is scrambling to cut costs in order to compete.

A new Arianespace rocket

A new Arianespace rocket starts its journey to French Guiana.

This first launch, the Vega qualification flight, is planned for January 2012 and will pave the way for five missions that aim to demonstrate the system’s flexibility. . . . Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. The benchmark is for 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude polar orbit.

This rocket is comparable to SpaceX’s now discontinued Falcon 1, though it can put more payload into orbit.