A launch for Earth observation: Vega orbits “eyes in the skies” on its latest success
Arianespace’s Vega continued its track record of success tonight, orbiting five new sets of “eyes” that will observe the planet Earth in very high resolution: a cluster of four SkySat satellites for U.S.-based operator Terra Bella and the Peruvian PerúSAT-1 spacecraft.
Vega’s mission with SkySats-4 to -7 and PerúSAT-1 marked the lightweight vehicle’s seventh launch, and was designated Flight VV07.
Lifting off from the Spaceport’s SLV launch site at 10:43:35 local time in French Guiana – the planned precise moment of launch – Vega lofted its multi-satellite payload during a flight lasting approximately 1 hour and 42 minutes.
Designated Flight VV07, the mission was Vega’s seventh since beginning operations in 2012 (all seven of which were successful), and it further demonstrated the capabilities of a light-lift vehicle that completes Arianespace’s launcher family – joining the company’s medium-lift Soyuz and heavyweight Ariane 5 in reliable side-by-side operations from the Spaceport in French Guiana. Vega is provided to Arianespace by Italy’s ELV S.P.A., which is the industrial prime contractor.
Tonight’s success also marked the first time since entering its commercial phase that Vega carried passengers on a single launch for two customers/users that are from outside the European market: Terra Bella is a Google company and the four SkySat satellites are its initial payloads entrusted to Arianespace; while PerúSAT-1 was orbited under a turnkey agreement between Airbus Defence and Space and Peru’s CONIDA national space agency.
Delivering for a new Arianespace customer
Terra Bella’s four spacecraft – designated SkySat-4, -5, -6 and -7 – were in the upper position of Vega’s payload arrangement, installed atop the VESPA (Vega Secondary Payload Adaptor) dispenser system that contained PerúSAT-1. They were released one-by-one into Sun-synchronous orbit during the flight sequence’s 40-minute mark.
The SkySat satellites each weighed approximately 110 kg. at liftoff, and after reaching their targeted orbit, will be used to provide very-high-resolution 3D mapping of Earth in its entirety – augmenting Terra Bella’s existing three in-orbit satellites. The newly-launched spacecraft will operate from a Sun-synchronous orbit at a 500 km. altitude.
Designed by Terra Bella, the Skysat-4 to -7 satellites were manufactured by SSL (Space Systems Loral) using dedicated SkySat platforms that were produced in the company’s Palo Alto, California facility.
In his comments from the Spaceport’s Jupiter control room, Chairman & CEO Stéphane Israël congratulated Terra Bella on tonight’s success and looked forward to future cooperation with this new Arianespace customer. “Your trust is felt as a profound confidence in the reliability and flexibility of the Vega launcher,” he added.
As a new partnership begins with Terra Bella, Israël also paid tribute to SSL for the long relationship between the satellite manufacturer and Arianespace: since 1983, SSL has produced 58 spacecraft that were orbited on Arianespace launches.
A milestone spacecraft for Peru
PerúSAT-1 – which had an estimated liftoff mass of 430 kg. – was released from Vega approximately one hour and 42 minutes after liftoff, deployed for its mission as Peru’s first Earth observation satellite.
A proud moment for Peru at the Spaceport following Arianespace’s successful orbiting of PerúSAT-1 on Vega.
“We are very proud to have delivered for Peru tonight,” said Israël. “Airbus Defence and Space, our direct customer for this mission on behalf of the Peruvian space agency CONIDA, is also the manufacturer of the satellite and a long-standing partner of Arianespace.”
It is a powerful optical observation satellite that integrates a latest-generation silicon carbide optical sensor, and will operate from a Sun-synchronous orbit at 695 km. Airbus Defence and Space built PerúSAT-1 using an AstroBus-S platform, equipped with its New AstroSat Optical Modular Instrument (NAOMI).
PerúSAT-1 is the 115th satellite built by Airbus Defence and Space to be orbited by Arianespace, extending a long relationship that will continue for years to come: Arianespace’s order book includes 13 more spacecraft from this manufacturer, along with a special order for the OneWeb constellation – which involves over 600 satellites.
A look to the Vega launcher’s future
“This seventh successful Vega flight since its introduction demonstrates how quickly Vega has convinced the market,” said Israël in his concluding statements. “After two new contracts awarded this year, Arianespace can count on nine more Vega launch contracts in its backlog, at the service of both institutional and commercial customers.”
Arianespace’s Vega launcher ascends from the Spaceport with its Earth observation payload of four Terra Bella Skysat satellites and Peru’s PerúSAT-1.
He added: “This is only the beginning of a long story for this launcher. The upgraded version, called Vega C, will be available in 2019 with more performance and an even greater variety of mission capabilities, while improving its competitiveness.”
Flight VV07 was Arianespace’s seventh of 11 launches targeted in 2016, and the company’s first this year using Vega. It follows Ariane 5 missions performed on January 27 (carrying Intelsat 29e as a dedicated single payload), March 9 (EUTELSAT 65 West A), June 18 (EchoStar XVIII and BRIsat) and August 24 (Intelsat 33e and Intelsat 36); plus Soyuz missions on April 25 (with Sentinel-1B as the primary passenger) and May 24 (two Galileo constellation satellites).
Arianespace’s next mission is scheduled for October 4, when the company’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 will loft a pair of satellites to geostationary transfer orbit: Sky Muster™ II for Australia’s national broadband network (nbn™), and the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) GSAT-18.
High-resolution versions of the liftoff images above are available for downloading from the gallery.