Preparations are well underway in Kourou, French Guiana for the maiden flight of the European Space Agency’s new light launcher, Vega, on 26 January. According to ESA, installation of the 100 tonne solid propellant first stage on the pad began earlier this week, and the solid-propellant second and third stages will follow; by year-end and after the flight readiness review, the fourth-stage attitude and vernier upper module will be integrated.
In parallel, the Italian-built LARES laser relativity satellite payload – and six cubesats, are being prepared.
Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. The benchmark is for 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude polar orbit.
Vega will lift off from the Spaceport’s ZLV launch site, which originally was used for the Ariane 1 and Ariane 3 vehicles.
The medium-lift Soyuz and light category Vega willcomplement ESA’s heavylift Ariane 5s to provide a range oflaunch options at Kourou.
A longer-term project is also underway, to develop a ahigh-thrust cryogenic engine that could form the basis of ESA’s next-generationlauncher. It will not fly until about 2025, but is intended to provide amedium-lift capability in a modular design, with a re-ignitable upper stage andoptions for strap-on solid propellant boosters offering extra thrust.