Vega (rocket)

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Vega
Sentinel-2 and vega.jpg
Vega VV09 liftoff with Sentinel-2B
Function Small-lift launch vehicle
Manufacturer Avio
Country of origin Italy, European Union
Size
Height 30 m (98 ft)
Diameter 3 m (9.8 ft)
Mass 137,000 kg (302,000 lb)
Stages 4
Capacity
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
Launch history
Status Active
Launch sites Guiana Space Centre SLV
Total launches 10
Successes 10
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 HTPB (Solid) [5]
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 HTPB (Solid) [6]
Upper stage – AVUM
Length 1.7 m (5.6 ft)
Diameter 1.9 m (6.2 ft)
Empty mass 147 kg (324 lb)
Gross mass 697 kg (1,537 lb)
Engines 1 RD-843
Thrust 2.42 kN (544.0 lbf)
Specific impulse 315.5 s (3.094 km/s)
Burn time 667 s
Fuel UDMH/N2O4

Vega (Italian: Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata),[7] Advanced Generation European Carrier Rocket),[8] 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 February 13, 2012.[4] Arianespace has ordered launchers covering the period till at least the end of 2018.[9]

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.[10] 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,[11] is a single-body launcher (no strap-on boosters) with three solid rocket stages: the P80 first stage, the Zefiro 23 second stage, and the Zefiro 9 third stage. The upper module is a liquid rocket called AVUM. The improved version of the P80 stage, the P120C, will be used as side booster of the Ariane 6. Italy is the leading contributor to the Vega program (65%), followed by France (13%).[12] Other participants include Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.[13]

Development[edit]

Background[edit]

During the mid-1990s, French firms Aérospatiale and SEP, along with Italian firm Bombrini-Parodi-Delfino (BPD), commenced discussions on the development of a proposed Ariane Complementary Launcher (ACL). Around the same time, Italy began to champion the concept of a new solid-propellant satellite launcher.[14] This proposed launcher, dubbed Vega, was promoted as functioning to expand the range of European launch capabilities; Vega would be capable of launching a 1,000kg payload capability into a 700km polar orbit. From the onset, the first of three stages would be based on the solid booster of the existing Ariane 5 expendable launch system while the second and third stages would be make use of the in-development Zefiro rocket motor.[15][16]

However, it was recognised to be a costly project and thus difficult for Italy alone to finance; accordingly, international partners were sought early on in order to proceed with development.[14] In April 1998, it was publicly stated that the Vega programme was dependent upon the securing of roughly ECU70 million ($77 million) of industrial investment, as well as the availability of around ECU350 million of funding that had been requested from interested member states of the European Space Agency (ESA), led by France and Italy.[17] During June 1998, it was announced that ministers from the ESA member states had agreed to proceed with the first phase of the development programme for Vega; the participating members were France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy - the latter had assumed 55 per cent of the burden for financing the programme.[18][16]

By September 1998, it was projected that, if fully funded, Vega would perform its first launch during 2002.[19] However, by early 1998, France was publicly showing displeasure in the programme, leading to disputes in its funding.[20][21] A new, higher- performance version of the Vega was proposed, but this failed to sufficiently satisfy France. In September 1999, France decided to withdraw from the Vega programme entirely, leading to fears for the future of the launcher.[22] In November 1999, the ESA formally dropped Vega as an endorsed programme, a decision which was largely attributed to France's withdrawal; Italy declared that it would proceed regardless, and threatened to re-direct its allocated contributions for the further development of the Ariane 5 to meet the shortfall.[23][24]

Around 2000, an alternative use for the Vega was explored as a medium-class booster rocket to be used in conjunction with an improved, up-rated model of the Ariane 5 heavy launcher.[25] In October 2000, it was announced that France and Italy had settled their year-long dispute over the Vega programme; France and Italy agreed to provide 35 per cent and 52 per cent of the respective financing towards the all-composite P80 booster for the Ariane 5, while the work upon which would be included in the Vega programme.[26] In March 2001, FiatAvio and the Italian Space Agency formed a new company, European Launch Vehicle (ELV), to assume responsibility for the majority of development work on the Vega programme.[27] By 2003, there was concerns that the ESA's recent adoption of the Russian Soyuz launcher would directly compete with the in-development Vega; demands for such launchers had declined with a downturn in the mobile telecommunications satellite market and doubts over the European Galileo satellite navigation system.[28]

Programme launch[edit]

In March 2003, contracts for development of the Vega launcher were signed by the ESA and Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES), the French space agency; Italy provided 65 per cent of funding while six additional nations contributed the remainder.[29] In May 2004, it was reported that a contract was signed between commercial operator Arianespace and prime contractor ELV to perform vehicle integration at Kourou, French Guiana.[30] In November 2004, construction commenced upon a new dedicated launch pad for the Vega launcher at Kourou, this included a bunker and a self-propelled structure to assist assembly of the stages; this site was built over the original launch pad for the retired Ariane 1 launcher.[31][32] In September 2005, the successful completion of key tests on the Vega's solid rocket motor igniters, a key milestone, was reported.[33]

In November 2005, the ESA declared its desire for the development and deployment of an electric propulsion-powered module to work in conjunction with the Vega launcher; this envisioned module would transfer payloads between low Earth orbit (LEO) and a geostationary orbit.[34] During November 2005, it was reported that both Israel and India had shown formal interest in the Vega programme.[35] In December 2005, the Vega launcher, along with the Ariane and Soyuz launchers, were endorsed as the recognised "first choice" platforms for ESA payloads.[36] On 19 December 2005, the first test firing of the Vega's third stage was completed successfully at Salto di Quirra, Sardinia.[37] For several years, further tests would be conducted at the Sardinia site.[38][39] Progress on Vega was delayed by the failure of one such test of the third stage on 28 March 2007.[40][41]

During January 2007, the ESA announced that the agency was studying the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation in order to support launches of the Vega and Ariane.[42] At the 2009 Paris Airshow, it was revealed that the adoption of more cost-effective engine to replace the upper stages of the Vega have been postponed due to a failure to reduce the overall costs of the launcher, making it much less worthwhile to pursue.[43] Despite this finding, efforts to improve the efficiency of the third stage continued.[44] At this point, the certification of all four stages of the Vega launch was anticipated to be achieved prior to the end of 2009, while the maiden launch itself was scheduled to take place during 2010.[45] The first flight was intended to be flown with a scientific payload, rather than a 'dummy' placeholder;[46][47] but had intentionally avoided a costly commercial satellite.[48] By late 2010, the maiden flight had been delayed into 2011.[49]

Into flight[edit]

During October 2011, all major components of the first Vega rocket departed Avio's Colleferro facility, near Rome, by sea for Kourou. At this point, the first launch was anticipated to occur during December 2011 or January 2012.[50][51] During early January 2012, it was reported that the launch date would slip into the following month.[47][52] On 13 February 2012, the maiden launch of the Vega rocket occurred for Kourou; it was reported as being an "apparently perfect flight".[53][54]

During mid-2011, it was postulated that an evolved 'Europeanised' upgrade of the Vega rocket could be developed in the medium-to-long term future.[55] Following the successful maiden launch, various improvements for the Vega were postulated. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) was reportedly enthusiastic on the prospects of developing a European alternative to the Vega's final, fourth stage; however, it was widely believed that there should be no change to Vega hardware for roughly 10 years in order to consolidate operations and avoid unnecessary costs early on.[56] The ESA was also keen to take advantage of potential commonalities between the Vega and the proposed Ariane 6 heavy launcher.[57]

Following on from the maiden launch, a further four flights were used to conducted under the vestiges of the VERTA programme (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment), during which observation or scientific payloads were orbited while validating and readying the Vega rocket for more lucrative commercial operations.[58] The second launch, performed on 6 May 2012, which followed a considerably more demanding flight profile and carried the type's first commercial payload, was also successful.[59] In the aftermath of this second launch, the ESA declared the Vega rocket to be "fully functional".[60]

Since entering commercial service, Arianespace markets Vega as a launch system tailored for missions to polar and sun-synchronous orbits.[61] During its qualification flight, Vega placed 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.[62]

Specifications[edit]

Stages[edit]

Vega (Stages)
Parameters[63][64] 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) 1.9 m (6.2 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 667 s
Specific impulse 280 s 287.5 s 296 s 315.5 s

Payload[edit]

Arianespace had indicated that the 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).[65]

The payload fairing of the Vega was designed and is manufactured by RUAG Space of Switzerland.[66] 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.[67]

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.[68][69]

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.[70]

After a critical design review based on the completed first test firings,[71] 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.[72] No public information is available for this sudden drop of internal pressure, and whether 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.[73]

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.[74]

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.[75]

The Zefiro 23 second stage engine was first fired on 26 June 2006 at Salto di Quirra. This test was successful.[76]

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.[77]

P80[edit]

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.[75] 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).[78]

The first test firing of the P80 engine took place on 30 November 2006 in Kourou, and the test was concluded successfully.[79]

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.[80]

The future version of the stage P120C, also with its name derived from the design phase propellant weight of 120 tons, will increase the propellant mass to 141-143 tons.[81]

AVUM[edit]

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).[82] The propulsion module uses a RD-843 rocket engine liquid-fuel rocket burning pressure-fed UDMH and nitrogen tetroxide as propellants. The AVUM avionics module contains the main components of the avionics sub-system of the vehicle.[83]

Flights[edit]

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.[84]

In 2009 the first launch of the system was anticipated to take place in November 2010;[85][86] later press suggested that the launch would slip to early 2012, until ESA publicized the launch for "end of January 2012".[87]

Vega launches[edit]

The maiden flight occurred on 13 February 2012.[88] All missions are launched from Ensemble de lancement Vega (ELV)

Vega (Launch history)
Flight № Date and time
(UTC)
Type Payload Payload type Orbit Outcome Notes References
VV01 2012-02-13
10:00:00
Vega LARES /
ALMASat 1 /
e-st@r /
Goliat /
MaSat-1 /
PW-Sat /
ROBUSTA /
UniCubeSat-GG /
XaTcobeo
Geodetic and Nanosatellite LEO Success Maiden Vega launch
VV02 2013-05-07
02:06:31
VERTA Proba-V /
VNREDSat 1A /
ESTCube-1
Earth observation satellite SSO Success First commercial launch [89][90]
VV03 2014-04-30
01:35:15
Vega KazEOSat-1 Earth observation satellite SSO Success [91]
VV04 2015-02-11
13:40:00
VERTA IXV Reentry technology demonstration Suborbital Success IXV deployed on suborbital trajectory, AVUM briefly entered orbit before performing targeted de-orbit [92][93][94]
[95][96]
VV05 2015-06-23
01:51:58
Vega Sentinel-2A Earth observation satellite SSO Success [97][98]
[99][100]
VV06 2015-12-03
04:04:00
VERTA LISA Pathfinder Technology demonstrator Halo orbit Earth-Sun L1 Success [101][102]
VV07 2016-09-16
01:43:35
Vega PeruSat-1 /
4 Terra Bella satellites
Reconnaissance satellite /
Earth observation satellite
SSO Success [103][104]
VV08 2016-12-05
13:51:44
Vega Göktürk-1A Earth observation satellite SSO Success [105]
VV09 2017-03-07
01:49:24
Vega Sentinel 2B Earth observation satellite SSO Success [106][107]
VV10 2017-08-02
01:58:33
Vega OPSAT 3000 /
VENµS
IMINT /
Earth observation satellite
SSO Success [108]
VV11 2017-11-08
01:00
Vega MN35-13 Earth observation satellite SSO Scheduled [109]
VV12 2018-01-20 VERTA ADM-Aeolus Weather satellite SSO Scheduled [109][110][111]
VV13 2018 Vega PRISMA
TARANIS (fr)
Earth observation satellites SSO Planned [112][113][114][115]
2018 Vega Falcon Eye 1 IMINT SSO (?) Planned [116]
H2 2018 Vega UniSat-7 Technology demonstration SSO Planned Demonstration flight of the new Small Satellites Mission Service dispenser [117][118]
2019 Vega-C1 TBD Planned Maiden flight of Vega-C [119]
2019 Vega Falcon Eye 2 IMINT SSO (?) Planned [116]
2020 Vega-C1 CSG-2 Earth observation satellite LEO Planned [120]
2020 Vega-C1 CERES
other satellite
SIGINT SSO (?) Planned [121]
2020 Vega-C1 2 satellites SIGINT SSO Planned

Planned future launches[edit]

The Italian Aerospace Research Centre plans to launch its "FTB-X" test vehicle[122] on a Vega launcher in the future although there are no updates in the project since 2012.[123]

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.[9]

Costs[edit]

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.[124] 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.[125]

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, [125]

Future developments[edit]

Mock version of Vega C at Paris Air Show 2015
  • Vega Consolidated (VEGA C)
    • P120C as first stage replacing P80;
    • Zefiro 40 as second stage replacing Z23.
  • VEGA Evolution (VEGA E)
    • P120C as first stage;
    • Zefiro 40 as second stage;
    • MIRA cryogenic LOX/Liquid methane upperstage replacing both Zefiro 9 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.[75] 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/Liquid methane stage with a new guidance system. The purpose of the program is to upgrade the performance by about 30% without significant price increase.[126]

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-843 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.[13]

The Vega first stage P120 is under consideration as booster for the first stage of the next generation Ariane 6 rocket.[127]

The revised Vega-C first stage, renamed P120C (Common), has been selected as booster for the first stage of the next generation Ariane 6 rocket at the ESA Council meeting at Ministerial level in December 2014.[128]

Comparable rockets[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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