A success for the inaugural launch of the European Vega-C rocket

The Vega-C rocket blasting off for its maiden mission (Image courtesy ESA)
The Vega-C rocket blasting off for its maiden mission (Image courtesy ESA)

A little while ago, the new European Vega-C rocket, the evolution of the Vega rocket that was in service for almost exactly 10 years, blasted off from the European launch base in French Guayana. After about 85 minutes, various satellites started being put into orbit including LARES-2 for the Italian Space Agency and some nanosatellites.

Just over 10 years after its first launch, the original version of the Vega rocket was replaced by its evolution, called Vega-C (Vega Consolidation). It was originally a small-lift launch vehicle but the new version increases the payload that can be carried into orbit. The mass transportable in a polar orbit at 700 kilometers of altitude goes from 1,500 to 2,200 kilograms while the transportable volume doubles.

The Vega-C rocket offers greater flexibility thanks to the development of different adapters for various types of satellites and different versions of the last stage. A rocket that was designed to be able to put satellites into different orbits in a single mission can now perform longer missions. These are new possibilities that will be extended over time and that include the reusable mini-shuttle called Space Rider, at least for now.

A major change in the Vega-C rocket is the first-stage engine. The P80 used in the original Vega rocket was replaced by the P120C, where the letter C stands for Common, as this engine will also be used for the side boosters of a much bigger launch vehicle, the Ariane 6, which is expected to debut in 2023. It’s an evolution of the P80, so it also replaces it as the world’s largest and most powerful solid fuel engine.

The second stage of the Vega-C rocket was improved as well. The new Zefiro 40 stage is a little larger than the original Zefiro 23 in order to carry a greater quantity of fuel that allows exploiting the greater thrust of the new version of the engine.

The main payload for the first flight of the Vega-C carrier rocket, referred to as VV21, is the LARES-2 (Laser Relativity Satellite 2) satellite of ASI (Italian Space Agency). It’s an improved successor to the LARES satellite launched on February 13, 2012, during the original Vega rocket’s qualification flight. The aim remains to test some aspects of the theory of relativity.

The secondary payload consists of CubeSat-class nanosatellites, which are now very common and consequently normal cargoes for a launch vehicle like Vega-C. These are the Italian AstroBio CubeSat and Greencube, the Slovenian Trisat-R, and the French MTCube-2 and Celesta.

This inaugural launch of the Vega-C rocket is important to the plans for this launcher and because the P120C engine will also be used by the Ariane 6. The success confirms that the companies and space agencies that collaborate in the development and management of the Vega project have done a good job with a space vehicle that is increasingly important also for commercial launches in an expanding market.

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