Vega takes a step closer to 2007 debut

by Chris Bergin

The European Space Agency (ESA) launch vehicle Vega has seen its upper stage pass vibration testing in Holland, with just the Critical Design Review (CDR) standing in the way of its 2007 debut launch.

The news comes as Europe’s other new vehicle, the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) may have to undergo ISS-level program review of its automated rendezvous and docking systems, due to “lessons learned” from the DART mishap.

**L2 Resources: 30MB of images of the ATV taken by sources – plus live update information**

Testing on the Vega upper stage composites was conducted at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), passing with what ESA claim was flying colours.

ELV SpA (Italy) is the lead manufacturer of the vehicle, which is designed to carry payloads in the range 300 kg to 2.5 tonnes into low Earth orbits. The typical reference for Vega’s launch capacity is to carry 1500 kg to a 700 km-altitude polar orbit. Launches will be conducted at the Ariane 5 launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

The upper composite that has just been tested is the top part of the launcher, which houses the navigation, communications and control equipment. The payload is carried on top of the composite, protected by a streamlined fairing, or nosecone. During testing, a mechanically representative model of a real satellite was used.

‘The vibration tests went well and we are on schedule,’ said Vega Test Manager Wolfgang Teichert. ‘We have carried out most of the tests for the final stage of the launcher.’

The CDR will be conducted at the end of the year, with the potential of a European Christmas present coming in the form of the final go-ahead for vehicle to launch the following year.

Meanwhile, the ATV – which has suffered a number of delays during its development – may have to satisfy International Space Station program managers, with sources claiming the possibility of a review by the Independent ISS Safety Advisory Task Force.

The ATV is set to work alongside the Russian Progress re-supply vehicle, carrying supplies and consumables to the ISS, while removing and disposing of waste materials during the burn up of the vehicle after undocking. The ATV’s role is crucial for the proposed increase in size – and the amount of crew members on board – over the coming years.

The review on ATV is believed to focus on the functionality of the automated rendezvous and docking systems, since the first real test of those systems won’t take place until the ATV makes its debut trip to the ISS next year.

This is understood to have some managers a little uneasy, especially following the DART mishap and the difficulties with the Japanese AR&D system, which both suffered major issues with their own automated systems.

Ironically, it was only just last week the ATV completed a critical final phase of the automated rendezvous and docking system software. It is not known if an issue arose during testing, which led to the subsequent ‘flagging’ by the Independent ISS Safety Advisory Task Force – and a possibility of a review.

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