The Vega launch family is set to welcome its second vehicle tomorrow morning. The Vega-C, or Vega Consolidated, will feature a number of significant upgrades over the current Vega rocket, replacing all but one stage of the rocket with upgraded variants. The debut flight will carry the LARES 2 mission to low earth orbit.
Initial development of the Vega-C began in late 2014 as the European Space Agency increased the payload demands for the long term Vega program. At the same time, development of the Ariane 6 selected the vehicle’s baseline design, including the usage of up to 4 P120 Solid Rocket Motors. This motor would quickly become a part of the Vega-C design, changing its designation to the P120C, or Common.
Alongside the upgraded first stage, the second stage would be upgraded from the Zefiro 23 to the Zefiro 40. The upgraded stage features a slightly higher performance propellant mixture and a 40 centimeter increase in diameter. The fourth stage, known as AVUM+ is an enlarged version of the standard AVUM flying on the baseline Vega.These upgraded stages give Vega-C a 1,000kg increase in payload to a 400 km sun synchronous orbit over the baseline Vega.
The first flight of Vega-C is currently scheduled for July 13 at 7:13 AM EDT. Flying aboard this is the passive LARES 2 mission. The initial LARES, or Laser Relativity Satellite, flew on Vega’s debut flight in 2012. LARES 2 will attempt to measure the Lense-Thirring effect, a distortion of space-time caused by rotation of a large body of mass, at an accuracy level of up to 0.2%.
Also launching on the debut mission are six cubesats. AstroBio Cubesat, the first of three Italian payloads on this mission, will be testing a method of detecting biomolecules in space. The Greencube mission will be conducting an experiment to grow plants in microgravity, and ALPHA will be exploring Earth’s magnetosphere. Joining the three Italian missions are three radiation exposure experiments, Trisat-R from Slovenia, alongside MTCube-2 and Celesta, both French in origin.
With the launch of Vega-C, the European Space Agency will begin the introduction of their next generation launch vehicles. The P120C will gain valuable flight data ahead of the Ariane 6 debut flight, currently expected in early 2023, and the upgraded Vega rocket will continue to open access for Europe’s growing medium lift satellite market.
Edited by David Diebold.