ESA Vega Rocket Launch Successful, Three Payloads Deployed In Orbit
May 7, 2013

ESA Vega Rocket Launch Successful, Three Payloads Deployed In Orbit

[WATCH VIDEO: Vega Launch Sequence Replay]

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

After a delayed launch due to strong wind conditions on Saturday May 4, ESA's Vega rocket lifted off early Tuesday (02:06 GMT May 7) on a complex mission to set three payloads into two different orbits. The ESA successfully launched the rocket from Europe´s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, carrying Proba-V, VNREDSat-1 and ESTCube-1.

Tuesday´s launch was the second mission for Vega (VV02) and lasted twice as long as its first launch (VV01) back in February 2012. The mission successfully demonstrated the capability of the rocket to unleash payloads into multiple orbits. The rocket performed a record five upper-stage boosts to put all three payloads into their respective orbits.

According to an ESA news release, “the three solid-propellant stages performed flawlessly and, after two burns of the liquid-propellant upper stage, Proba“‘V was released into a circular orbit at an altitude of [510 miles] over the western coast of Australia, some 55 minutes into flight.”

Proba-V will be controlled by ESA´s center in Redu, Belgium now that it is in orbit. The satellite is currently undergoing health checks and testing before its operational phase begins. Proba-V will monitor the vegetation coverage over Earth.

After successfully deploying Proba-V, Vega´s upper stage performed a third burn before the top half of the oval-shaped Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (VESPA) was ejected. A fourth burn was initiated to circularize the orbit at a lower altitude of 437 miles. At one hour and 57 minutes into the flight, Vietnam´s VNREDSat-1 was deployed, followed by Estonia´s ESTCube-1 three minutes later at exactly two hours after lift-off.

A final burn then placed the spent upper stage on a trajectory that would ensure safe reentry that complies with new debris mitigation regulations.

“It is another great day for ESA, for its Member States and for Europe. Thanks to decisions taken by Member States, ESA and European industry are demonstrating once again their capabilities of innovation,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

“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,” he added.

Tuesday morning´s launch was conducted under the Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment (VERTA) program. VERTA´s goal is to demonstrate the versatility and capability of the launch system. It also marks the transition from ESA to Arianespace as a launch operator. During VV02, Arianespace provided flight analysis, prep and operations management, and marketing of VNREDSat-1 as Vega´s first commercial payload.

Vega´s second mission also demonstrated the rocket´s capability to launch multiple payloads into space under the new VESPA multiple launch adapter. The launch also introduced new flight software developed by ELV. Also, a new tracking station in French Guiana will aid in telemetry.

“Vega has confirmed that it is ready to deliver a high-quality service for small payloads to low Earth orbit,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA´s Director of Launchers. “Europe now has the capability to serve both the government and commercial market in this growing market segment. Since the qualification flight one year ago, the marketplace has warmly embraced the arrival of Vega, and today we launched the first commercial satellite.”

The primary payload, Proba-V, was built by Qinetiq Space Belgium. Franco Onrago, ESA Director of Technical and Quality Management, said, “With the launch of this third Proba satellite, ESA´s small satellite series has come of age.”

“This flight affirms ESA´s capacity to provide concepts and flexible mission designs that address specific needs in a short time. Proba“‘V will be an operational satellite as soon as it is commissioned, supplying data to an eagerly waiting community,” he added. “In addition, it continues the tradition of being a technology demonstrator for innovative technology that will benefit the wider European space community for years to come.”

Once Proba-V enters its operational phase, it will make detailed images of nearly the entire planet´s vegetation cover every two days. The satellite´s imaging instrument is a follow-up to the first generation of Vegetation imagers on France´s Spot-4 and Spot-5 satellites.

Proba-V will take over the aging Spot-5´s duties when it retires next year. The Vegetation imager is a high-tech optical imager designed to provide 350m-resolution imagery in four visible and infrared bands that will cover all areas within 35—75ºN and 35—56ºS. These data will be processed and provided to a wide community of international users, including the European Commission.

Vietnam´s VNREDSat-1A satellite is deployed as a commercial remote sensing satellite built by Astrium for Vietnam´s Academy of Sciences and Technologies. The satellite will monitor data from natural resources, the environment and disasters.

Estonia´s ESTCube-1 was designed and built by students at the University of Tartu. The project was funded by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The cubesat will deploy a 10m-long tether to demonstrate electrostatic maneuvering through the plasma flow, which could lead to the development of solar sails for interplanetary travel.