Vega rocket blasts off from French Guiana

Vega rocket blasts off from French Guiana

KOUROU, French Guiana-Reuters
Vega rocket blasts off from French Guiana

This photo shows a new lightweight rocket, Vega, which lifted off from Europe’s space base carrying nine satellites on its inaugural flight, mission control said. AFP photo

Europe’s first Vega rocket blasted off from French Guiana on Feb. 13 in a successful inaugural flight aimed at giving Europe a vehicle for scientific satellite missions.

The rocket took off from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America at 7.00 a.m. with nine scientific satellites on board.

Its main passenger, the LARES satellite that will test aspects of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, separated from the rocket 55 minutes later.

Vega will complement the family of rockets currently available for launch from Guiana - the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher introduced in 1996, and Soyuz, a medium-class launcher.

“A new member of the (European) launcher family has been born,” ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said after the 90 minute flight.

“Today is the first day of a new operational life which we hope will be a long and successful one. Vega is a launcher that is necessary for ESA,” Dordain said.

Vega’s maiden launch follows years of delays and budget disputes since it was proposed in the mid-1990s. The ESA decided to back the rocket in 2003.

They argued that a rocket for small satellites fulfilled a niche market and rockets for those satellites would be scarce.

Most rockets from the former Soviet Union are based on stages of ballistic missiles that are no longer in production.

American competitors in this segment have encountered problems. SpaceX - brainchild of PayPal founder Elon Musk - has pulled resources from its Falcon 1e rocket and only one launch in 2015 is now scheduled. Taurus XL, launched by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp, has suffered two failures since 2009.