PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s new medium-range Vega-C rocket is nearly ready for its maiden flight, with its four stages stacked and ready to receive the payload fairing before final checks and launch from the European spaceport in French Guiana.
Flight VV21 will take off on July 13, pending launch conditions.
Vega-C represents a dramatic increase in capacity over its predecessor, Vega, which has been flying since 2012. With new first and second stages and an improved fourth stage, Vega-C increases Vega’s performance from 1.5 t to approximately 2.2 t in a reference 700 km of polar orbit.
Vega-C features a new, more powerful first stage, the P120C, based on Vega’s P80. Above that is a new second stage, Zefiro-40, and then the same Zefiro-9 third stage used on Vega.
The reignitable upper stage is also improved. AVUM+ has increased liquid propellant capability, to deliver payloads to multiple orbits depending on mission requirements and to enable longer operational time in space, to enable extended missions.
The P120C engine will do double duty, with two or four units acting as strap thrusters for Ariane 6. Sharing this component streamlines industrial efficiency and improves the profitability of both launchers.
With taller main stages and larger fairing – which doubles the payload volume compared to Vega – Vega-C stands 34.8m tall, nearly 5m taller than Vega.
The new launcher configuration offers a significant improvement in launch system flexibility. Vega-C can orbit larger satellites, two primary payloads, or can accommodate various arrangements for rideshare missions. ESA’s next return-to-Earth vehicle Space Rider will be launched into orbit during the inaugural launch of Vega-C.Vega-C: Mission Highlights
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The main payload of this maiden flight is LARES-2, a scientific mission of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Once in orbit, the precise trajectory of LARES-2 will be tracked by laser, from ground stations. The purpose of the mission is to measure the so-called frame drag effect, a distortion of spacetime caused by the rotation of a massive body such as the Earth, as predicted by the general theory of relativity d ‘Einstein. Its predecessor, the similar LARES, was the primary payload for Vega’s maiden flight in 2012.
Six CubeSats constitute a secondary payload package. AstroBio CubeSat (Italy) will test a solution for detecting biomolecules in space. Greencube (Italy) is carrying out a plant cultivation experiment in microgravity. ALPHA (Italy) aims to help understand phenomena related to the Earth’s magnetosphere, such as the aurora borealis and australis.
Three other CubeSats – Trisat-R (Slovenia), MTCube-2 (France) and Celesta (France) will study the effects of a severe radiation environment on electronic systems.
As with any maiden launch, this is a challenging mission. “Vega-C features major improvements from Vega, both in the rocket and its ground infrastructure,” says Renato Lafranconi, Vega Programs Manager. “We have developed a new configuration with significant changes to many features of a proven concept, but the aim is to make major improvements in performance and competitiveness.”
ESA’s Director of Space Transport, Daniel Neuenschwander, underlines that Vega-C will work alongside the heavy carrier Ariane 6 to ensure that Europe maintains flexible, competitive and, above all, autonomous launch capabilities: “With Vega-C and Ariane 6, Europe will have a flexible and independent solution for a rapidly evolving launch market.
“And, these two systems are the basis of a development plan that will serve European institutions and trading partners, opening a new chapter of European services.”
ESA Member States participating in Vega-C are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.