Vega (rocket)

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Vega VV02 ready for liftoff.jpg
Vega VV02 rocket on the ELV pad
Function Small orbital launch vehicle
Manufacturer Avio
Country of origin Italy, Europe
Height 30 m (98 ft)
Diameter 3 m (9.8 ft)
Mass 137,000 kg (302,000 lb)
Payload to
Polar orbit
(700km / inclination 90°)
1,430 kg (3,150 lb)
Payload to
Elliptic orbit
(1500x200km / inclination 5.4°)
1,963 kg (4,328 lb)
Payload to
SSO (400km)
1,450 kg (3,200 lb)
Associated rockets
Comparable Minotaur IV, Minotaur-C, Rokot
Launch history
Status Active
Launch sites ZLV (ELA-1), Centre Spatial Guyanais
Total launches 4
Successes 4
First flight 13 February 2012 (2012-02-13)[1]
First Stage - P80[2][3][4]
Length 11.7 m (38 ft)
Diameter 3 m (9.8 ft)
Empty mass 7,330 kg (16,160 lb)
Gross mass 95,695 kg (210,971 lb)
Thrust 2,261 kN (508,300 lbf)
Specific impulse 280 s (2.7 km/s)
Burn time 110 s
Fuel HTPB (Solid)
Second Stage - Zefiro 23
Length 8.39 m (27.5 ft)
Diameter 1.9 m (6.2 ft)
Empty mass 2,850 kg (6,280 lb)
Gross mass 28,850 kg (63,600 lb)
Thrust 871 kN (195,800 lbf)
Specific impulse 287.5 s (2.819 km/s)
Burn time 77 s
Fuel Solid
Third Stage - Zefiro 9
Length 4.12 m (13.5 ft)
Diameter 1.9 m (6.2 ft)
Empty mass 1,315 kg (2,899 lb)
Gross mass 11,815 kg (26,048 lb)
Thrust 260 kN (58,450 lbf)
Specific impulse 296 s (2.90 km/s)
Burn time 120 s
Fuel Solid
Upper Stage - AVUM
Length 1.7 m (5.6 ft)
Diameter 2.31 m (7.6 ft)
Empty mass 147 kg (324 lb)
Gross mass 697 kg (1,537 lb)
Engines 1 RD-869
Thrust 2.42 kN (544.0 lbf)
Specific impulse 315.5 s (3.094 km/s)
Burn time 6672 s
Fuel UDMH/N2O4

Vega (Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata,[5] Advanced Generation European Carrier Rocket) is an expendable launch system in use by Arianespace jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. Development began in 1998 and the first launch took place from the Guiana Space Centre on 13 February 2012.[4] Arianespace has ordered launchers covering the period till at least the end of 2018.[6]

It is designed to launch small payloads — 300 to 2,500 kg satellites for scientific and Earth observation missions to polar and low Earth orbits.[7] The reference Vega mission is a polar orbit bringing a spacecraft of 1,500 kilograms to an altitude of 700 kilometers.

Vega, named after the brightest star in the constellation Lyra,[8] is a single-body launcher (no strap-on boosters) with three solid rocket stages, the P80 first stage, the Zefiro 23 second stage, the Zefiro 9 third stage, and a liquid rocket upper module called AVUM. The technology developed for the P80 program will also be used for future Ariane developments. Italy is the leading contributor to the Vega program (65%), followed by France (13%).[9] Other participants include Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.[10]

Payload capacity[edit]

Arianespace indicates a Vega launcher is able to carry 1,500 kilograms (3,300 lb) to a circular polar orbit at an altitude of 700 kilometres (430 mi).[11]

Arianespace is marketing Vega as a launch system tailored for missions to polar and sun-synchronous orbits.[12] In its qualification flight VEGA put its main payload of 386.8 kg, the LARES satellite, into a circular orbit at the altitude of 1450 km with an inclination of 69.5 degrees.[13]



[14][15] P80 Zefiro 23 Zefiro 9 AVUM
Height 11.7 m (38 ft) 7.5 m (25 ft) 3.5 m (11 ft) 1.7 m (5.6 ft)
Diameter 3 m (9.8 ft) 1.9 m (6.2 ft) 1.9 m (6.2 ft) 2.31 m (7.6 ft)
Propellant mass 88 t 24 t 10.5 t 0.55 t
Motor dry mass 7,330 kg (16,160 lb) 1,950 kg (4,300 lb) 915 kg (2,017 lb) 131 kg (289 lb)
Motor case mass 3,260 kg (7,190 lb) 900 kg (2,000 lb) 400 kg (880 lb) 16 kg (35 lb)
Average thrust 2,200 kN (490,000 lbf) 871 kN (196,000 lbf) 260 kN (58,000 lbf) 2.42 kN (540 lbf)
Burn time 110 s 77 s 120 s 6672 s
Specific impulse 280 s 287.5 s 296 s 315.5 s

Payload Fairing[edit]

Vega's payload fairing is designed and manufactured by RUAG Space of Switzerland. It has a diameter of 2.6 meters, a height of 7.8 meters and a mass of 400 kg.

Three solid motor stages[edit]

The first three stages are solid propellant engines produced by Avio, that is Prime Contractor for the Vega launcher through its company ELV.[16]

Each of the three engine types intended for the three stages of the Vega had to be commissioned with two test-firings - one for design evaluation and one in the final flight configuration.[17][18]

Zefiro 9[edit]

The first engine completed was Zefiro 9, the third stage engine. The first test firing was carried out on 20 December 2005, at the Salto di Quirra Inter-force Test Range, on the Mediterranean coast in southeast Sardinia. The test was a complete success.[19]

After a critical design review based on the completed first test firings,[20] the second test-firing of the Zefiro 9 took place at Salto di Quirra on 28 March 2007. After 35 seconds, there was a sudden drop in the motor's internal pressure, leading to an increased combustion time.[21] No public information is available for this sudden drop of internal pressure, and what if any flaws were present in the motor's design.

On 23 October 2008 an enhanced version of the Zefiro 9 with a modified nozzle design, the Zefiro 9-A, was successfully tested.[22]

On 28 April 2009, the final qualification test firing of Zefiro 9-A took place at the Salto di Quirra Interforce Test Range in Sardinia, Italy.[23]

Zefiro 23[edit]

The development of the Zefiro motor was initiated by Avio, partially funded by the company and partially funded by a contract from the Italian Space Agency. A Zefiro 23 forms the second stage of Vega. Its carbon-epoxy case is filament-wound and its carbon phenolic nozzle includes a carbon-carbon throat insert. The propellant loading is 23 tons.[24]

The Zefiro 23 second stage engine was first fired on 26 June 2006 at Salto di Quirra. This test was successful.[25]

The second test firing of the Zefiro 23 second stage engine took place on 27 March 2008 also at Salto di Quirra. This successful test qualified the rocket engine.[26]


Main article: P80 (rocket stage)

The P80 is the first stage of VEGA, its name is derived from the design phase propellant weight of 80 tons that was later increased to 88 tons. The P80 includes a thrust vector control (TVC) system (developed and made in Belgium by SABCA) consisting of two electromechanical actuators that operate a movable nozzle with flexible joint using lithium ion batteries.[24] The 3 m diameter case is composed of graphite epoxy filament wound case and low density rubber is used for the internal insulation. The nozzle is made of light low-cost carbon phenolic material; a consumable casing is used for the igniter. The solid propellant loaded has low binder content and high aluminium percentage (HTPB 1912).[27]

The first test firing of the P80 engine took place on 30 November 2006 in Kourou, and the test was concluded successfully.[28]

The second test firing of the P80 first stage engine took place on 4 December 2007 in Kourou. Delivering a mean thrust of 190 tonnes over 111 seconds, the engine's behaviour was in line with predictions.[29]

Future versions of the stage would increase the propellant mass to 100 tons (P100) and 120 tons (P120).[30]


The AVUM (Attitude Vernier Upper Module) upper stage, developed by Avio, has been designed to place the payload in the required orbit and to perform roll and attitude control functions. The AVUM consists of two modules: APM (AVUM Propulsion Module) and AAM (AVUM Avionics Module).[31] The propulsion module uses a RD-869 rocket engine liquid-fuel rocket burning pressure-fed highly toxic UDMH and nitrogen tetroxide as propellants. Built by Yuzhnoye Design Bureau now in Ukraine, it is developed for the old Soviet ICBM SS-18 Satan, for restartable use. Germany’s aerospace technology agency-DLR is understood to be keen to work with the Italians to develop a replacement for the RD-869.[10][32] The AVUM avionics module contains the main components of the avionics sub-system of the vehicle.[33]


Lead-up to first launch[edit]

Enrico Saggese, at that time head of the Italian Space Agency, suggested in October 2008 that the first flight of VEGA might be delayed, stating "We have to decide if we want to wait until we have another programme", and referring to plans to have German participation to develop new third and fourth stages.[34]

In 2009 the first launch of the system was anticipated to take place in November 2010;[35][36] later press suggested that the launch would slip to early 2012, until ESA publicized the launch for "end of January 2012".[37]

Vega launches[edit]

The maiden flight occurred on 13 February 2012.[38]

No. Date/Time
Type Serial-no. Startplace Payload Type of payload Orbit Outcome Remarks
1 2012-02-13
Vega VV01 ELV LARES / ALMASat 1 / e-st@r / Goliat / MaSat-1 /
PW-Sat / ROBUSTA / UniCubeSat-GG / XaTcobeo
Geodetic and nanosatellites LEO Success First Vega launch
2 2013-05-07
VERTA[39] VV02 ELV Proba-V / VNREDSat 1A / ESTCube-1 Earth observation satellite SSO Success First commercial launch[40]
3 2014-04-30
VERTA[39] VV03 ELV KazEOSat-1[41] Earth observation satellite SSO Success
4 2015-02-11
VERTA[39] VV04 ELV IXV[45] Reentry technology demonstration Suborbital Success IXV deployed on suborbital trajectory, AVUM briefly entered orbit before performing targeted de-orbit[46]
2015-06-11[47][48] Vega ELV Sentinel 2A[49][50] Earth observation satellite SSO
2015-09 VERTA[39] ELV LISA Pathfinder[45] Technology demonstrator Halo orbit Earth-Sun L1
2016[51] VERTA[39] ELV ADM-Aeolus Weather satellite SSO
2016[52] ELV Göktürk-1 Earth observation satellite SSO
2016 Vega ELV [[OPSAT 3000]] / VENµS[53] IMINT / Earth observation satellite SSO
2016-17 Vega ELV 9 Skybox satellites[53] Earth observation satellite SSO Contract cover multiple launches
2016-17[54] Vega ELV Sentinel 3B[49] Earth observation satellite SSO
2017[55] VERTA[39] ELV PRISMA[56] Earth observation satellite SSO
2017[57] ELV TARANIS Earth observation satellite SSO

Planned future launches[edit]

Having successfully completed the maiden qualification flight, and waiting the outcome of the second flight, ESA has plans for four more flights in its VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) programme. The VERTA flights will carry several ESA missions such as Proba-V, ADM-Aeolus, LISA Pathfinder and the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV).[58] The launch of LISA Pathfinder is now planned for 2015 but some source identifies it as the payload of the VEGA third flight.[59][60]

In a meeting held on 14 December 2011 in Evry, France, representatives from Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) signed a contract that binds the company to launch the Sentinel-2B and Sentinel-3B satellites aboard a Vega rocket.[61] Later, the launch of Sentinel-2A, replaced the initially planned Sentinel-2B.

Arianespace announced on 20 June 2012 that Kazakhstan’s KazEOSat 1 optical Earth observation satellite will be the first commercial satellite launched aboard Vega.[41]

The Italian Aerospace Research Centre plans to launch its "FTB-X" test vehicle[62] on a Vega launcher in the future although there are no updates in the project since 2012.[63]

In November 2013, Arianespace ordered from ELV 10 Vega launchers, with the first to be ready for launch starting at the end of 2015. These are intended to cover more than three years of operations.[6]


Developments costs for the Vega rocket were €710 million, with ESA spending an additional €400 million to sponsor five development flights between 2012 and 2014.[64] Commercial launch cost have been estimated at €32 million including Arianespace's marketing and service costs or €25 million for a rocket alone, assuming launch rate of 2 per year. By increasing flight rate up to 4 per year price of an each individual launch vehicle will drop to €22 million.[65]

Our belief is that we can charge up to 20 percent more per launch than our biggest competitors and still win business because of the value we provide at the space center here and with Arianespace.

—Francesco De Pasquale, managing director of ELV SpA, [65]

Future developments[edit]

  • Vega Consolidated (VEGA C)
    • P120 as first stage replacing P80.
  • VEGA Evolution (VEGA E)
    • P120 as first stage;
    • with Zefiro 40 as second stage;
    • cryogenic upperstage (MYRA) replacing both Z9 and AVUM.

There was a concept study for a new medium-size launcher based on Vega and Ariane 5 elements. This launcher would use an Ariane 5 P230 first stage, a Vega P80 second stage and an Ariane 5 third stage using either storable or cryogenic fuel.[24] The addition of Soyuz to the Arianespace launch vehicle lineup removed momentum from this initiative.[citation needed]

The future upgraded Vega (LYRA program) has exceeded the feasibility study and is planned to replace the current third and fourth stages with a single low cost LOX/LNG stage with a new guidance system. The purpose of the program is to upgrade the performance by about 30% without significant price increase.[66]

On 14 February 2012, one day after the successful first launch of Vega, the German space agency moved to be included in the program. Johann-Dietrich Woerner, at that time head of the German Aerospace Agency DLR, said Germany wanted to join the project. Germany would provide a replacement for the RD-869 engine on the AVUM fourth stage, currently made in Ukraine. The Vega Launcher Manager stated that it will not fly in the near future because it takes some time to develop, but he confirmed it will be on agenda in the next meeting of ministers in late 2012. That way, all components of the rocket would be built inside the EU, excluding the Swiss made ones.[67]

The Vega first stage is under consideration as booster for the first stage of the next generation Ariane 6 rocket.[68]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vega liftoff". ESA. 
  2. ^ Avio. "Vega Satellite Launcher" (PDF). Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Avio. "Avio Space" (PDF). Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "ESA – Vega". 3 February 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  5. ^ ESA: Antonio Fabrizi: from "nuts and bolts" to Europe’s launchers of today and tomorrow [1]
  6. ^ a b Arianespace orders ten new Vega launchers from ELV, Arianespace media release, 20 November 2013, accessed 22 November 2013
  7. ^ Amos, Jonathan (13 February 2012). "Vega launcher makes first flight". BBC News. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  8. ^ Tariq Malik (13 February 2012). "Europe Launches New Vega Rocket on Maiden Voyage". Retrieved 29 May 2014. The Italian-built Vega rocket is named after the second-brightest star in the northern hemisphere 
  9. ^ "Vega Launcher Targets Government Market". Aviation Week. 6 February 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  10. ^ a b CLARK, S. (14 February 2012). "Vega launcher program courts German participation". Spaceflight Now. p. 1. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  11. ^ "Vega — Overview". Arianespace. 
  12. ^ "Vega — Performance". Arianespace. 
  13. ^ I. Ciufolini et al. The Design of LARES: A Satellite for Testing General Relativity, IAC-07-B4.2.07, proceedings of the 58th International Astronautical Congress, India, Hyderabad, 2007
  14. ^ "Vega Satellite Launcher". Avio. Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  15. ^ "Vega - Launcher composition (interactive)". ELV. Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "Space Propulsion". Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  17. ^ "VEGA Satellite Launcher". 
  18. ^ Neri, Agostino (4 August 2011). "Vega Launch System Final Preparation for Qualification Flight". Proceedings of 47th AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference. San Diego, California (USA): AIAA. 
  19. ^ ESA: Successful first test for Vega's Zefiro 9 engine
  20. ^ ESA: Vega Critical Design Review begins
  21. ^ ESA: Anomalous behaviour affects firing test of Vega’s Zefiro 9 motor
  22. ^ "Successful first test for Vega’s Zefiro 9-A solid-fuel rocket motor". ESA. 24 October 2008. 
  23. ^ "Successful second test for Vega’s Zefiro 9-A solid-fuel rocket motor". ESA. 30 April 2009. 
  24. ^ a b c M. Caporicci (November 2000). "The Future of European Launchers: The ESA Perspective". ESA. 
  25. ^ ESA: Vega's second stage motor roars to life
  26. ^ Successful qualification firing test for Zefiro 23
  27. ^ "Solid propellant rocket stage". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 
  28. ^ ESA: Successful firing of Vega’s first-stage motor in Kourou
  29. ^ ESA: Vega main engine test in Kourou
  30. ^ "ASI SpaceMag n° 1". (in Italian). Agenzia Spaziale Italiana. March 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  31. ^ "AVUM" (in Italian). Avio. Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  32. ^ Author: Dan Thisdell ESA keeps eye on Ukraine crisis as Vega launch nears Flightglobal, London, 24 April 2014
  33. ^ "Vega Launcher". ESA. 6 February 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  34. ^ "Italian Space Agency Plans its Relaunch". Flight International. 31 October 2008. 
  35. ^ "Avio: Vega's motors qualify but maiden launch slips to 2010". Flight International. 29 April 2009. 
  36. ^ "Delays seen for Soyuz, VEGA launches at Europe's Space Base". AFP. 15 June 2009. 
  37. ^ "Vega moves closer to its first liftoff". ESA. 15 December 2011. 
  38. ^ "ESA’s new Vega launcher scores success on maiden flight". Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  39. ^ a b c d e f VERTA is an acronym for Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment and designates Vega's missions aiming «to demonstrate the flexibility of the Vega launch system». VERTA framework includes four ESA missions (Proba-V, Aeolus, LISA Pathfinder and IXV), but also some missions of National Agencies (like ASI). Sources: ESA (20 november 2013). VERTA Programme; ASI (2015).PRISMA Precursore IperSpettrale (Hyperspectral Precursor) of the application mission.
  40. ^ "Vega delivers three Satellites to Orbit to achieve second Success". spaceflight101. 7 May 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  41. ^ a b Greg Delaney (22 June 2012). "Kazakhstan to launch sastellite on new Arianespace Vega vehicle". Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  42. ^ Bergin, Chris (3 July 2014). "ESA’s experimental space plane gearing up for November debut". NASA spaceflight. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  43. ^ "The Spaceport keeps pace with Arianespace's busy mission cadence". Arianespace. 17 October 2014. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  44. ^ "ESA launch schedule". Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  45. ^ a b "Vega to fly ESA experimental reentry vehicle". ESA. 29 March 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  46. ^ "IXV - Intermediate Experimental Vehicle". Spaceflight101. Retrieved 2015-02-27. 
  47. ^ "Sentinel-2". ESA. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  48. ^ "Soyuz orbits Sentinel-1A on 7th successful launch from French Guiana". CNES. Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  49. ^ a b "Vega milestones". Arianespace. Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  50. ^ "ESA books Eurockot Launch for Sentinel-5p Satellite". Eurockot Launch Services. Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  51. ^ "Wind laser survives extremes". ESA. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  52. ^ "Arianespace Inks Deal for 2015 Vega Launch of Turkish Imaging Satellite". Earsc. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  53. ^ a b "Arianespace to launch OPTSAT 3000 and VENµS satellites". Arianespace. 19 February 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  54. ^ "Sentinel-3 stacks up". ESA. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  55. ^ "ASI report to SpaceOps CaL". Retrieved 30 April 2014. [dead link]
  56. ^ "PRISMA". ASI. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  57. ^ Depasquale, Francesco. "The Launchers: Vega a winning project Capability , Opportunities and Future Prospective". Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  58. ^ "VERTA programme". ESA. 29 April 2013. 
  59. ^ "Lisa pathfinder overview". ESA. 10 January 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  60. ^ Gunter Dirk Krebs. "Vega". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  61. ^ Tudor Vieru (19 December 2011). "Vega Rocket to Launch Two ESA Sentinel Satellites". 
  62. ^ "Flying Test Beds, FTB-X". 
  63. ^ Tariq Malik (12 March 2007). "Italian Firm Hails Test of Unmanned Spacecraft Prototype". 
  64. ^ de Selding, Peter B. (13 February 2012). "Europe’s Italian-led Vega Rocket Succeeds in Debut". SPACE NEWS. 
  65. ^ a b de Selding, Peter B. (23 January 2012). "Vega Expected to be Price-competitive With Russian Rockets". Space News. 
  66. ^ "LIRA | VEGA evolution". Agenzia Spaziale Italiana. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  67. ^ CLARK, S. (14 February 2012). "Vega launcher program courts German participation". Spaceflight Now. p. 1. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  68. ^ Stephen Clark (21 November 2012). "European ministers decide to stick with Ariane 5, for now". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 

External links[edit]