Arianespace’s Vega launches with Proba-V

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Arianespace launched their Vega rocket on Monday, following last week’s scrub due to range weather. Vega’s second flight is carrying the primary payload, Proba-V, with the VNREDSat-1A and ESTCube-1 satellites also set to ride uphill.

Vega Launch:

The opening attempt was aiming for a 02:06 GMT launch from pad ELA-1 at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. However with only a one second launch window, and range weather showing the risk of debris falling outside of the exclusion zone – in the event of a failure during ascent – the attempt was scrubbed for the day.

The second attempt on Monday also had a target T-0 of 02:06 GMT (Tuesday), 23:06 local (Monday), with the launch occurring without issue.

The four-stage launcher is tailored to carry the growing number of small scientific spacecraft and other lighter-weight payloads under development or planned worldwide. Vega also offers configurations able to handle payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus six microsatellites.

Arianespace started work on the vehicle back in 2003 – as much as the origins of the concept range back to the 1990s – with ELV SpA (Italy) the lead manufacturer.

Vega StagesVega utilizes a P80 advanced solid propellant first stage motor, featuring a novel filament-wound casing structure, utilizing new-generation, high-quality production techniques.

The second and third stages – designated Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9, respectively – also use solid propellant motors, while the launcher is topped off by the bi-propellant liquid upper stage (called AVUM – Attitude and Vernier Upper Module).

Although the debut launch was originally targeting 2007, the first mission – designated VV01 per Arianespace’s system – enjoyed a success launch, carrying nine satellites into space during its February 12, 2012 mission.

The success qualified the overall Vega system, including the vehicle, the ground infrastructure and operations, from the launch campaign to the payload separation and disposal of the upper module.

In particular, the mission demonstrated the vehicle’s performance and payload services.

Vega Mission:

For the VV02 mission, Vega will launch the third satellite in ESA’s Proba series, known as Proba-V, with the “V” standing for vegetation, given this satellite will be tasked with mapping land cover and vegetation growth across the entire planet every two days.

Using the compact Proba platform, the satellite is designed to be highly autonomous as demonstrated by the two previous satellites in the series.

Proba-1The Project for On-Board Autonomy (Proba) is a technology demonstration mission that began in 1998. Funding came through ESA’s General Support Technology Program (GSTP).

Proba-1 was originally a demonstrator, tasked with demonstrating new hardware and software technologies as well as on-orbit operational autonomy. The satellite was launched into a sun-synchronous orbit by an Indian PSLV launcher in 2001.

Proba-1 weighed in at 130 kg at launch, of which 30 kg was technological demonstration payloads and 24 kg dedicated to scientific and Earth observation instruments. The primary instrument is the Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS), able to capture 17 meter spatial resolution images via 13 square km scenes in 18 user-selected visible and near-visible wavelengths.

The satellite has acquired over 20,000 environmental science images during its 11 year lifetime, a testament to the engineers who built the satellite, given it has surpassed its expected operational life of two years.

Proba-2In 2009, Proba-1 was joined on orbit by Proba-2 – the second satellite in the Proba series. Proba-2 was launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia by a Rockot launcher into a sun-synchronous orbit.

Based on the same platform as Proba-1, the second satellite shares its box-like size of less than one cubic meter, with a mass of 130 kg, sporting four scientific instruments.

In contrast to Proba-1, Proba-2 is sun-facing, with two of its instruments tasked solar observations – namely a large yield radiometer (LYRA) and an extreme-ultraviolet telescope (SWAP). The other two scientific instruments monitor space weather; the dual segmented langmuir probes (DSLP) and a thermal plasma measurement unit (TPMU).

As a technology demonstrator, Proba-2 was tasked with testing 17 new technologies. These technologies included testing of a new type of lithium-ion battery developed by France, new data and power management systems, new structural panels and guidance and propulsion demonstrators. After its original mission duration ended in October, 2011 – ESA extended the mission, allowing the spacecraft to be functional until at least 2019.



Proba-V is the third satellite in the series, set for its mission in a sun-synchronous orbit.

Like Proba-1 and Proba-2, the latest satellite was built by QinetiQ Space. With a mass of 140 kg, the spacecraft will include a combination of scientific and technological demonstration payloads.

Its main scientific payload will be an improved version of the Vegetation imager, previously flown on the successful Spot satellites. The Vegetation imager will be able to capture images with a 100 meter resolution at Nadir and 350 meter on full field view. It will have a 102 degree field of view with a 2,250 km wide swath.

Its technology demonstration payloads include the High Density Space Form Connector Demonstration (HERMOD) – a gallium nitride X-band transmitter with the ability to provide a 40 Mbps downlink for payload data and new multi-line optical fiber and connectors.



Also onboard is the Broadcast (ADS-B) – a receiver able to track air traffic via Automatic Dependent Surveillance, and a energetic Particle Telescope, aimed at identifying charged particles over a 50 degree field of view.

CERN, the famous laboratory that built AMS-2, are also involved via their Timepix chips that are part of the Timepix-based Radiation Monitor (SATRAM) payload. Timepix is a read-out chip used for detecting various types of radiation.

Once launched, the satellite will undergo a orbital commission period – a process all satellites go through – that will includes cross-checks with the Vegetarian imager of Spot-5. Once the commission period finishes the satellite will be handed over to ESA’s Earth Observation Programme (EOP), as it begins to produce data for the worldwide user community.

Its uses will include day-by-day tracking of extreme weather, alerting authorities to crop failure, monitoring inland water resources and tracing the spread of deforestation and deserts.

The success of Proba-V is vital, given the vegetation imagers on Spot-4 and Spot-5 will only be available until 2013, with their planned successor, Sentinel 3, waiting until next year for its launch. Proba-V will therefore fill an important gap in providing the ever growing user community with data.

Proba-V’s operational lifetime is planned to be 2.5 years, with the option to extend to five years.

A fourth satellite – Proba-3 – is scheduled to launch in 2017. This mission is planned to study the sun’s faint corona closer to the solar rim than ever before, as well as being part of the world’s first precision formation flying mission.

Vega payloadsProba-V won’t be the only passenger on this second Vega launch, with VNREDSat-1A – an optical observation spacecraft built by Astrium on behalf of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology – also riding uphill.

With a mass of approximately 120 kg, it will support the Vietnamese government’s initiative to create an infrastructure that enables better monitoring and studies of climate change effects, improves predictions and actions to prevent natural disasters, while also optimizing the management of its natural resources.

Also, ESTCube-1 – Estonia’s first satellite – will be joining VNREDSat-1A in the VESPA dispenser.

It was designed and built by a team of students at the country’s National University of Tartu, under supervision of the Estonian Space Office.

ESTCube-1The project involved a collaboration of students from the Estonian Aviation Academy, Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Life Sciences – developed in conjunction with the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the German Space Center (DLR).

In addition to extending a small conductive tether for testing of electric solar wind sail technologies, the 1.33-kg. cubesat will help establish an Estonian infrastructure for future space projects.

Vega’s Future:

By the time Vega was ready for its qualification flight, ESA and Arianespace had already ordered four new launchers, amid studies for the launch of the LISA Pathfinder mission. The order complemented the purchase of a first launcher in an agreement signed in 2011 within the framework of the Verta contract, covering the five launches.

The studies for the launch of the LISA Pathfinder scientific satellite of ESA, using a Vega launcher from the Verta batch, started at the end of September, 2011. The mission is scheduled for a launch window from October 2013 to September 2014.

ESA’s IXVVega will also carry out the launch of ESA’s IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle), which is now into a detailed planning stage, a major step towards the spacecraft’s projected 2014 flight. (L2 Link to 15 Presentations on IXV)

Launched into a suborbital trajectory from Kourou, the IXV will return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, allowing for the testing and qualification of new critical technologies for future re-entry vehicle concepts.

During it mission, the vehicle will aim for an altitude of around 450 km, allowing it to reach a velocity of 7.5 km/s on entering the atmosphere and will collect a large amount of data during its hypersonic and supersonic flight, while it is being controlled by thrusters and aerodynamic flaps.

IXV will then descend by parachute and land in the Pacific Ocean to await recovery and analysis.

(Images via Arianespace, ESA and L2)

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