Arianespace’s small launcher, the Vega rocket, successfully conducted the launch of the VENµS and OPTSAT 3000 satellites on Tuesday evening in what was the seventh Earth observation mission for the lightweight rocket. Lift off occurred on schedule at 01:58 UTC from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
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 will continue to have a busy life ahead of her.
This latest launch involved two satellites, mirroring the usual launch configuration of her big sister, Ariane 5, with the difference being the mass of the satellites and the adaptor. For Vega, the Vespa hosts the two satellites, instead of the SYLDA.
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.
Standing almost 11 meters tall, and with a diameter of three meters, the P80 has an overall mass of 95 metric tons and burns approximately 88 tons of solid propellant in slightly less than two minutes.
The P80 generates 300 tons of thrust to power Vega during its initial ascent from French Guiana.
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, including this mission, is now into double figures for missions conducted.
One of Vega’s most interesting missions to date was the successful launch of the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), which took place in 2015.
This latest mission was named Flight VV10 – signifying the tenth mission overall performed by the lightweight Vega launcher.
The launch took place from the Vega’s ELA-1 launch pad.
OPTSAT-3000 was the first passenger to be deployed by Vega.
Dropped off in a Sun-synchronous orbit, OPTSAT-3000, an Earth observation satellite for the Italian Ministry of Defense, was built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) based on inter-governmental Italian-Israeli agreements. It will enable national defense entities to acquire and use high-resolution images from any part of the globe.
The OPTSAT-3000 system was supplied by Telespazio as prime contractor, which has responsibility for the entire system: from the satellite to the ground segment, launch and early operation services, the preparation and execution of operations and logistics, through to in-orbit tests and commissioning. OHB Italia is responsible for the launch services and related engineering support.
With a design life exceeding seven years, OPTSAT-3000 has a liftoff mass of 368 kg.
Riding in the lower payload position on Vega was Venµs, an Earth observation and exploratory mission for the Israeli Space Agency (ISA) and France’s CNES space agency at the benefit of the Israeli Ministry of Science & Technology.
As the first Israeli-made satellite created for environmental research purposes, Venµs was developed by Israel Aerospace Industries’ Space Division, with Rafael providing the propulsion system. The spacecraft has a liftoff mass set at 264 kg.
Venµs – which is the acronym for “Vegetation and Environment on a New Micro Satellite” – will study the evolution of the Earth’s vegetation during its scientific mission, while the satellite’s technological mission will provide in-flight qualification of the Israeli Electrical Propulsion System, based on Hall-Effect thrusters.
Venμs is equipped with a multi-spectral camera that can capture important details, some of them are not visible to the human eye. The camera operates in 12 wavelengths that work simultaneously.
It takes 12 simultaneous images of the same location – each in different spectral bands, including those in the near-infrared range. These separate images are processed into one very precise complete color photograph.
The satellite will image vast areas around the globe and provide dozens of images every day, each of them covering approximately 760 square kilometers. Venμs will fly in a Sun-synchronous, nearpolar orbit – which enables its return to view each area around the world, exactly at the same time and under the same imagery conditions.
By analyzing and comparing the images taken from the same location, researchers will be able to assess the state of the soil, understand how vegetation is developing, and detect the spreading of disease or contamination in the field.
The technological payload of Venμs comprises a unique electric propulsion system, which is based on Hall-Effect thrusters. Such an electrical propulsion system allows for minimizing the mass of hydrazine chemical propellant while achieving flexible orbital maneuvers that can be affected online, considerably extending the lifetime.
In order to reduce the mission’s risk, Venμs is also equipped with a redundant common chemical propulsion system.
The satellite’s overall size is only 1.7 X 1.2 meters, with a wingspan of 4.4 meters when the solar array is extended.
Flight VV10 was Arianespace’s eighth mission of 2017. It followed the launches of four Ariane 5s, two Soyuz vehicles and one Vega so far this year.
(Images via Arianespace).