TAMPA, Fla. – Europe’s new Vega C medium-lift rocket took off on its maiden flight on July 13, carrying an Italian physics satellite and six cubes.
The four-stage rocket was launched from Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:13 a.m. East, at the end of a two-hour launch window. Technical problems had stopped the countdown twice.
Italy’s 295 kilogram Laser Relativity Satellite-2, or LARES-2, is the primary payload and was placed 5,893 kilometers into an unusual inclined orbit to test Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
LARES-2 was deployed nearly 85 minutes after launch, followed approximately 45 minutes later by six cubesats.
Three of the cubesats also come from Italy: AstroBio, which will test a solution for detecting biomolecules in space, Greencube with an experiment for growing plants in microgravity, and ALPHA, which aims to demonstrate technology to simulate the Earth’s magnetosphere. to understand.
Among them were MTCube-2 and Celesta from France and Trisat-R from Slovenia who will study the effects of radiation on electronic systems.
Arianespace carried out the launch and declared the mission successful in a press release after a flight that lasted approximately two hours and 15 minutes.
“With this inaugural launch officially declared a success, Arianespace will now launch Vega C operations, an important milestone for European sovereign access to space,” said Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israel.
Vega C’s first commercial launch is scheduled for November, when the rocket will place the Pléiades Neo 5 and 6 Earth-imaging satellites for their builder and operator Airbus.
Vega C debuts on a cloudy day in Kourou. Credit: ESA, CNES, Arianespace / Optique Video du CSG – S Martin
Vega C has more powerful rocket motors and a larger payload volume than Vega, which is retiring after being first launched ten years ago.
The upgraded rocket can carry about 2.3 tons to a reference orbit of 700 kilometers in the Arctic Circle, compared to 1.5 tons for its predecessor, according to the European Space Agency.
Vega C’s first stage is powered by a P120 engine that will also be used by Europe’s upcoming Ariane 6 launcher, which will have two variants to replace Europe’s heavy Ariane 5 and the medium Soyuz rocket that originated in Russia.
ESA said on July 12 that the Ariane 6’s central core, consisting of the core stage and the upper stage, had been transferred to a launch pad in Kourou for combined testing ahead of an initial launch next year.
The central core is joined by three pylons in the form of the rocket’s solid boosters, and an inert model of the fourth booster, for tank filling tests and an automated countdown.
This article was updated on July 13 after the last payload on Vega C’s maiden flight separated from the rocket.