Vega-C successfully completed its maiden flight

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[EN VIDÉO] Time-lapse: The Sentinel-2A satellite is installed on the Vega launcher
The Sentinel-2A satellite was launched into orbit on June 23, 2015 to observe our planet. Discover in this fascinating time-lapse video the final stages of integration of the satellite into the Vega launcher.

21st June, The the sun Hard bangs through the cloud. CSG, the Guyana Space Centre, is in a state of excitement because the following day, Ariadne 5 It takes off with two satellites on board. Not far from his launch pad, we drive to the launch pad the vegawhere the European Space Agency (ESA) has a new baby to show off: Vega-C, a new version of it Launcher Lightweight Vega.

At the launch pad, Alexander Tamborini, manager of the Vega-C final assembly site, welcomed us. indeed, the rocket 35 meters high is assembled vertically on its launch pad. When we arrived, the shooting campaign that started on April 15 was in full swing. All floors are already assembled and tested. Only the fairing with its payload is not there yet.

A new generation rocket

Vega has already flown twenty times since 2012, experiencing two failures, including one French scientific satellite Taranis is causing damage. Developed from Ariane 5 lateral boosters, it provides access to space for small satellites destined for lower orbits than Vega.Geosynchronous orbit. But if Vega is modest, it can still carry a 1,500 kilo payload into low orbit. Vega-C is more powerful and can carry 800 kg more.

Vega-C follows the same architecture as Vega: four stages, the first three of which include fuel propulsion difficultAnd a last stage using propellants liquid. Transformation has occurred at virtually all levels. First of all, the most important P120Cwhich replaces P80 And this ability provides a good chunk of profit. A more powerful version, the P120C+, is under study.

The second stage, Zephiro-40, is also new. It replaces Zephiro-23 and provides more power. The Avum upper stage, whose engine comes from Ukraine, has also been modified to an Avum+ version, with more re-ignition capability. Finally, Vega-C’s fairing is longer to be able to carry more payload. ESA and the lead manufacturer, Italian industrialist Avio, aim to make Vega-C more powerful, more flexible and, above all, less expensive than Vega, with a target reduction of 20%.

When Alexandre Tamborini welcomed us, the Vega-C was undergoing electrical and avionics acceptance testing. The test mainly concerns Avum, the latest arrival. It still remains to fill its tanks before accommodating the payload under the fairing. Tamborini describes the transformations he had to make to his building to accommodate Vega-C’s new dimensions.

one with Project Manager Although Italian, the Vega-C remains a European rocket. In addition to Italy, 10 other countries participated constructionincluding France, which supplies significantly Forehead P120C engine, manufactured by ArianeGroup of Bordeaux. ” Vega-C is a very good example of the success of European cooperation in space ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher said at a press conference.

The European launcher is a successful entry for the new generation

Flight VV21 had been for a long time. Health crisis Especially in question, the inaugural launch campaign has been postponed many times since 2020. When we asked workers in late June if they were confident, they expected not to have to work another Sunday before the flight, previously scheduled for July 7. Finally, ESA decided to give itself some more time. These reports are common with a rocket that has never flown before. Time matters little as long as it succeeds.

July 13, 1:00 p.m. Paris time (8:13 a.m. in Kourou). Time is suspended, and so is the count. We have a “Red Launcher” on the side of the device Backup (Launcher, Site and Population Security). ESA is in charge. This inaugural flight is used to qualify the launcher before commercialization Arianespace. Eligibility depends on the organization.

Vega-C finally took off from CSG at 3:13 PM Paris time. As soon as the P120C ignited, the rocket took off immediately despite its 210 tons. At an altitude of 77 km, the P120C was defueled and separated, i.e. 2 minutes 26 seconds after takeoff. The Z40 takes a good two minutes before moving to the hard-running upper floor. The headdress also comes off, since we are already in space.

Just 7 minutes and 22 seconds after takeoff, the Z9 stage broke apart. Eleven minutes later, the Avum+ upper stage lights up for a few minutes for the first time. A 56-minute free fall occurs, during which the upper stage and its passengers continue to gain altitude without the need for propulsion. After the second ignition of Avum+, the inert load Lares-2 is lowered to an altitude of 5,893 km. Three quarters of an hour later, the six secondary passenger CubeSats were ejected. The mission lasted a total of two hours and fifteen minutes.

Vega-C qualified but was affected by the war in Ukraine

The success of the VV21 flight qualified the Vega-C, as well as the P120C engine that would act as a booster booster in two or four copies. Ariadne 6. So this is a big step forward for Space Europe which has just been written. ” Today we begin a new era of European launch solutions, starting with Vega-C and ending with Ariane 6 ESA’s director of space transport, Daniel Neuenschwander, said. The first flight of Ariane 6 will enable the definitive transition to a new era of European rockets, where Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz-ST will no longer fly, with a transformed, more optimized and more eco-responsible CSG.

Vega-C will have some competition in Europe with German rockets FRG is one Rocket Factory Augsburg, and the spectrum of Issar Aerospace, of equivalent caliber, sharing the same market, and whose first flights will arrive by 2023. That said, Vega-C already has a well-filled order book, enough to ensure its future, with institutional payloads, e.g. Space Rider, and commercial. ” The purpose of the transition from Vega to Vega-C is to stick with the market demand as we found that Vega’s performance was becoming limited compared to what we could offer. With this 50% power increase, we reposition Vega-C in the market ” said Benoît Poufary of Futura Sciences, responsible for this Start campaigning From Vega-C to ESA.

After the two last flights of Vega in the original version in 2022, ESA wants to speed up. Five Vega-C flights are planned for 2023, four for 2024 and the same for 2025. ESA is counting on Vega-C to be able to re-enter orbit Sun-synchronous, ideal for observation satellites, many of which are waiting for an available slot in Europe Arianespace also wants to use its SSMS system to be able to send dozens Microsatellites At the same time and thus competition SpaceX in this domain

Note that SSMS is a feeder for multiple passenger satellite missions. It’s a true Swiss Army knife that can accommodate small satellites of any size and launch them into space in an orbit (or at least the closest) chosen by the customer. method Validated on Vega Flight on September 3, 2020. Several SSMS flights are planned with Vega-C. ” It is a concept that allows for different forms of a mission said Benoît Poufary, head of the Vega-C launch campaign at ESA.

However, the Vega-C suffers from a rather pressing problem: the Avum+ is Ukrainian production, notably its RD-843 engine. According to ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, Avio has a stock of six engines, enough to last until the end of 2023. The east of the country is very close to the Russian front, and the uncertain future is produced in the Dnipro. ESA is studying replacement options for RD-843 Avio is testing the M10 engine (fuel: methane/liquid oxygen) that could do the trick. First attempt to update, according to Benoit Pouffary the fire The engine was successfully placed in recent weeks.

Finally, the entire Avum floor should be replaced by another upper floor no longer dependent on Ukraine. But this new 100% European version of Vega – Vega-E – shouldn’t arrive before 2025/2026. “ We plan to review Vega-E’s initial design before the end of this year. Then, we will move to a detailed definition in the first test, allowing us to pass a critical review of the system definition. “, notes Benoît Poufary.

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