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Europe’s Vega Launcher Ready for its Closeup

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 10, 2010
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Vega's first stage departs from the Spaceport’s Booster Integration Building at Kourou. (Credit: Arianespace)


A representative P80 first stage for Vega is now on the launch pad in French Guiana, marking a milestone in preparations for next year’s introduction of this lightweight vehicle, which will be operated by Arianespace in commercial missions.

The P80 first stage was rolled out to the Spaceport’s Vega launch zone on October 26 as the initial step in combined testing of Vega with its ground-based infrastructure. This full-scale stage is complete with instrumentation, and has been filled with a simulated load of solid propellant.

“The rollout involved the P80’s transfer from its Booster Integration Building to the Spaceport’s Vega launch zone, demonstrating the procedures that will be used with actual launcher hardware,” explained Claude-Henri Berna, the Arianespace Vega program director in French Guiana. “It was carried out under management of the European Space Agency and performed by the French CNES space agency, while also bringing together the launcher’s industrial contractors, along with Arianespace as the future operator.”

The Vega first stage. (Credit: Arianespace)

A special wheeled vehicle was used for transporting the Vega first stage, which is installed on a pallet similar to those used with Ariane 5’s solid propellant boosters, although smaller in size. Once positioned at the Vega launch complex, the pallet/booster combination was transferred from its low-slung transporter vehicle onto the launch pad via a short set of parallel rails.

The P80 stage was developed by Italy’s Avio for Vega program prime contractor ELV, and is one of the largest, most powerful one-piece solid-propellant boosters ever built. It utilizes a novel filament-wound case, and will burn 88 metric tons of propellant during a powered flight lasting 109 seconds.

The current combined testing phase of Vega and its ground infrastructure at the Spaceport will continue, culminating with the assembly of all four stages on the launch pad, along with the integration of a simulated satellite payload and its protective fairing. This activity will continue through the end of March 2011, and is to be followed by a qualification campaign with actual flight hardware. The completion of these steps will clear the way for Vega’s inaugural launch, which is targeted for mid-2011.

Vega’s launch site is built on the former launch pad for Ariane 1, which was the initial member of the European-developed Ariane launcher family.