Science & Environment

Esa's Vega rocket puts Proba-V vegetation mission in orbit

Vega launch
Image caption Vega clears the Kourou launch pad

Europe's Vega rocket has successfully completed its second mission.

The vehicle left the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 23:06 local time on Monday (02:06 GMT, Tuesday), placing three satellites in orbit.

Its primary payload was the 140kg Proba-V spacecraft.

This will acquire pictures of land use and vegetation changes from an altitude of 820km, maintaining an important data series started by the French Spot satellites in the late 1990s.

Vega is the latest rocket to be developed by the European Space Agency (Esa).

Its purpose is to guarantee access to space for the small satellites (up to 2.5 tonnes) built by European nations.

These countries are investing, together with their industries, about a billion euros in the introduction of the new rocket.

Friday's launch was part of what Esa calls the Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment (Verta) programme - a sequence of flights intended to demonstrate the rocket's capabilities whilst at the same time moving it towards full commercial service.

To that end, one of the "passengers" on the flight was VNREDSat-1 - the first fee-paying payload to ride Vega.

The 115kg spacecraft, built for the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology, will be used for environmental monitoring in the Asian country.

A small satellite weighing just over 1kg was also despatched by the rocket. ESTCube-1, as it is known, is a student project and represents the first spacecraft to be made in Estonia.

Europe already has a "heavy-lift" rocket, the Ariane-5; and has recently begun using a "Europeanised" version of the medium-class Russian Soyuz rocket in French Guiana. The small-class Vega completes the portfolio of launchers.

Friday's flight lasted just over two hours. Vega's upper-stage had to ignite several times to get all three satellites in their correct orbits.

A final burn sent the upper-stage on a downwards trajectory to burn up in the atmosphere.

The manoeuvre ensured Vega limits its contribution to the growing population of redundant objects that now litter the space environment.

  • Vega lifts off from a refurbished pad formerly used by the Ariane 1
  • Its four stages and satellite payload are assembled on the launch site
  • Satellites will weigh from a few 10s of kg up to a maximum of 2,500kg
  • The "reference mission" is a 1.5t satellite in a 700km-high polar orbit and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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