Arianespace’s Vega rocket successfully completed her fifth launch, this time lofting the Sentinel-2A satellite – the latest spacecraft in Europe’s series of Earth observation satellites for the Copernicus initiative. Launch took place at 01:52 GMT (Tuesday) from launch pad ELA-1 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana – ahead of a smooth 55 minute ride to orbit.
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.
During her early career, she has proven her versatility by successfully lofting a range of spacecraft into orbit.
By offering configurations able to handle payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus six microsatellites, Vega has a busy life ahead of her.
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 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 successful 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’s most important mission was her previous, with the successful launch of the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV).
Sentinel-2A spacecraft is part of Europe’s Copernicus Program – formerly known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) – designed to give Europe complete independence in the acquisition and management of data for Earth environmental, civil safety and humanitarian purposes.
The Sentinel mission involves constellations utilizing two identical satellites for each objective to provide optimal global coverage. Launches of the satellites will be conducted throughout this decade and into the 2020s.
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A Soyuz ST-A rocket lofted the Sentinel-1A mission last year, with the spacecraft marking its first full year in service this month.
Sentinel-2A – riding on Arianespace’s Vega rocket – will join in on the work of its sister spacecraft.
Astrium won the contract to build the two Sentinel-2 spacecraft via awards from ESA in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
Sentinel-2 spacecraft feature a 290 km-wide coverage, 10-20 m spatial resolution, 13 optical channel instrument – operating from visible-near infrared to shortwave infrared – and will ensure enhanced-quality continuity with existing missions.
The mission will orbit at a mean altitude of approximately 800 km and, with the pair of satellites in operation, has a revisit time of five days at the equator – under cloud-free conditions – and two to three days at mid-latitudes.
“Sentinel-2A, with its optical camera, is a complement to the radar images from Sentinel-1A,” said Volker Liebig, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes. “It will support important areas of benefit to society such as food security and forest monitoring.
“Its combination of wide swaths and short revisit time will allow users to view land change and vegetation growth with unprecedented accuracy.
“By frequently revisiting areas, it will allow a new generation of operational products, from land cover and change detection maps, disaster maps and leaf area index to chlorophyll content and other bio-geophysical variables.”
The 54-minute, 43-second flight concluded with successful deployment of Sentinel-2A.
“Sentinel-2 is the second satellite of a constellation of 20 satellites which will scrutinise planet Earth and will vastly improve the ability of Copernicus to provide European citizens with the most comprehensive data for environmental and security applications available anywhere in the world,” noted ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.
The spacecraft completed functional test campaign at Airbus Defence & Space (DE) and was shipped to IABG to undergo its environmental test campaign.
The processing flow will allow for the Sentinel-2B spacecraft to enter launch readiness in Spring 2016.
Sentinel-2, like Sentinel-1, is equipped to benefit from another ESA program, the European Data Relay System (EDRS).
EDRS is creating a network of geostationary laser communication payloads for the continuous relay of low-orbit satellite data, and will enable the Sentinel’s Earth observation data to be transmitted faster than ever, using laser links.
Flight VV05 marked Arianespace’s fifth mission in 2015 using a member of its launcher family. It follows two previous flights for Ariane 5, plus one each with Soyuz and Vega.
The launch took place from the Vega’s ELA-1 launch pad.
Variously designated Zone de lancement Vega (ZLV), Ensemble de lancement Vega (ELV) and Site de lancement Vega (SLV), the pad was originally built in the early 1970s for the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO).
A single Europa II vehicle was flown from Guiana by ELDO, failing to achieve orbit with a vehicle evaluation payload. This proved the final launch of the Europa rocket, however in 1979 its successor, the Ariane 1, made its maiden flight from the same complex.
The pad, designated Ensemble de lancement Ariane (ELA) and later ELA-1 after a new pad was constructed for the Ariane 4, supported 25 Ariane launches between 1979 and 1989, ending with the final flight of the Ariane 3.
With the larger Ariane 4 and later 5 rockets flying from ELA-2 and ELA-3 respectively, ELA-1 fell into disuse and was decommissioned. Rebuilt for Vega in the late 2000s, the complex now serves as that rocket’s only launch site.
(Images via ESA and Arianespace).