The dark night sky of French Guiana was illuminated for a short time by a Vega rocket launch from the European Spaceport at Kourou which lifted off at 0142 GMT on 8 November. The rocket was carrying the Mohammed VI-A high-resolution optical imaging satellite for the Government of Morocco. It will have both military and governmental use.
This launch marks the eleventh straight success for the Vega rocket since its maiden launch, and the tenth and penultimate mission of the year for launch provider Arianespace.
The launch was a late booking. The launch contract was not signed until earlier this year. It also got off slightly earlier than planned due to a Vega launch vehicle suddenly becoming available in November when the launch of ESA’s ADM Aeolus atmospheric and wind research spacecraft was postponed until next year.
The 1,100 kg spacecraft was finally placed into a 620 x 622 km sun-synchronous Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by the rocket’s AVUM fourth stage. This was the first of two Mohammed VI satellites built by Thales Alenia Space in cooperation with Airbus Defence and Space. Thales is supplying the imaging payload whilst Airbus is providing the satellite platform which is based on their Astrosat-1000 bus.
It is believed the two spacecraft built for Morocco have similar capabilities to the two Pleiades satellites built for France and launched in 2011/12 and the upcoming Falcon Eye satellites being built for the United Arab Emirates.
David Todd contributed to this story.