Vega Flight VV16 – the SSMS Proof of Concept mission: Postponed until August 17, 2020
Due to the persistence of exceptionally unfavorable winds at altitude over the Guiana Space Center, Vega Flight VV16 – originally scheduled for June 18, 2020 – was repeatedly postponed, despite full availability the launcher and the 53 satellites on this Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) mission.
With no improvement in the weather situation expected during the short term, Arianespace has decided to postpone Flight VV16 until August 17, 2020, when the forecast is expected to be more favorable based on modeling of the winds. The interim period will be used to recharge batteries of the launcher and the satellites, under all the required safety conditions.
Despite this delay, Arianespace is maintaining the target of performing three Vega launches during 2020.
Arianespace’s next confirmed launch is Flight VA253, planned for July 28. This Ariane 5 mission to geostationary transfer orbit will be performed on behalf of the following customers: Intelsat (with the Galaxy 30 and MEV-2 payloads), and B-SAT (with BSAT-4b).
In the exceptional context of the COVID-19 crisis, Arianespace was prepared to launch the Flight VV16 mission as soon as possible after the interruption of launch campaigns at the Guiana Space Center, which was caused by the epidemic. The mobilization of Arianespace and its partners, in particular Avio (industrial prime contractor for the Vega launcher), the French CNES space agency and the European Space Agency, made it possible to envisage this launch as of June 18, 2020. Unfortunately, due to exceptionally unfavorable winds at altitude for this time of year, the launch was rescheduled several times through Sunday, June 28.
Without a foreseeable improvement in the meteorological situation to allow an authorization of the northward launch toward polar orbit in accordance with range safety rules, Arianespace decided to reschedule the next SSMS mission launch attempt for August 17. At this date, the wind forecasts – based on models observed during several years – are more favorable.
The time that is now available will be used to restore the readiness of the launcher and the SSMS mission’s 53 satellites in the context of operations carried out with batteries on the launcher in the Vega Launch Zone; and with batteries on the satellites, conducted in the launch site’s payload preparation facilities.
The launch planning for Ariane 5’s Flight VA253 – to be performed for operators Intelsat and B-SAT – was confirmed on July 28. The two Intelsat satellites arrived at the Spaceport in French Guiana on Saturday, June 27. Arrival of the BSAT-4b satellite is expected on July 1st. The availability of this launch – with its eastward trajectory towards geostationary orbit – is not affected by the high-altitude winds currently observed above the Guiana Space Center in relation to the range safety rules. Therefore, a sustained level of activity continues at the Spaceport despite the health crisis that is particularly affecting French Guiana and the American continent.
“In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, which was as exceptional as it was difficult, Arianespace and its partners – especially Avio, ESA and CNES – mobilized in an absolutely remarkable way in seizing every opportunity to launch the Flight VV16 mission,” confirmed Stéphane Israël, Arianespace’s Chief Executive Officer. “This mobilization made it possible to carry out the Vega campaign from end to end, and to ensure the availability of both the launcher and the SSMS mission’s 53 satellites.
Unfortunately, the persistence of exceptionally unfavorable winds at altitude in relation to the safety rules forces us to reposition this mission to August 17. We understand the impatience of our 21 customers, and we share it; we will now devote all our energy to ensuring the success of the 16th Vega flight for this emblematic mission as quickly as possible.”
Flight VV16 is the first European rideshare mission in the framework of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service. Proposed as part of Arianespace’s launch catalog offerings, SSMS is a European project.
With funding from ESA, the SSMS dispenser structure (on which the satellite payloads are integrated) was developed by Colleferro, Italy-based Avio – which also is the Vega launcher’s industrial prime contractor. The structure was manufactured by the Czech company, SAB Aerospace. The European Union also contributed to the funding of the Flight VV16 demonstration mission.
The Vega launcher remains available for launch at any time when the required safety conditions are met.
Despite the delay in Vega Flight VV16, Arianespace continues to maintain its target of three Vega launches in 2020.
Arianespace uses space to make life better on Earth by providing launch services for all types of satellites into all orbits. It has orbited more than 650 satellites since 1980, using its family of three launchers, Ariane, Soyuz and Vega, from launch sites in French Guiana (South America) and Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Arianespace is headquartered in Evry, near Paris, and has a technical facility at the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, plus local offices in Washington, D.C., Tokyo and Singapore. Arianespace is a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, which holds 74% of its share capital, with the balance held by 15 other shareholders from the European launcher industry.