June 16, 2009

ESA Postpones Launch Of Soyuz, Vega

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Monday that initial launches for the Russian-made Soyuz rocket and a new light rocket called Vega will be delayed until 2010.

The rockets were originally set to launch later this year.

The Russian Soyuz is being added to ESA's launch pad at Kourou, French Guiana, to provide operational flexibility and manage mid-level payloads as the Ariane 5 rocket handles heavier payloads.

The launch was postponed as a result of delays in a Russian-built mobile gantry that will be added to the launch pad, said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain at the Paris Air Show.

"The mobile gantry should have been integrated now, meaning that the first launch of Soyuz from French Guiana will take place now in the first weeks of 2010 instead of the end of 2009," Dordain told the AFP news agency.

There were also testing delays of a new light rocket called Vega that will serve as the third component of the flexible launcher strategy, Dordain added.

The Russian Soyuz, a workhorse of space travel, has until now only been launched from Plesetsk, in northern Russia, and Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, without the use of a gantry for support.

The Kourou launch will use the "Soyuz 2" rocket, which is capable of launching three tons of payload into geostationary orbit, compared with the 1.7 tons of payload that can be launched from Baikonur.

With a payload capacity of 1.5 tons, Vega will be launched from the old Ariane-1 rocket.  The space agency had originally hoped to launch Vega's first flight by the end of the year.

"Unfortunately we had some delays in the integratedness and the qualification of some sub-systems of the launcher, which mean that we have postponed the start of the last phase of the (test) program... from May to December 09, meaning that there will be a delay of several months in the first flight of Vega," Dordain said.

"We shall fix the date of this first flight by the end of the year," once a combined test of the rocket and ground facilities have been completed, he added.

The Arianespace launch company is marketing all three of the rocket systems.


Image Caption: Artist's impression of a Soyuz liftoff at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana


On the Net: