Europe’s LISA Pathfinder spacecraft, carrying high-tech thrusters and ultra-sensitive motion sensors to be used in a future gravitational wave detection mission, blasted off from French Guiana early Thursday aboard a nearly 100-foot-tall (30-meter) Vega rocket.
After lifting off at 0404 GMT Thursday (1:04 a.m. French Guiana time; 11:04 p.m. EDT Wednesday), the four-stage Vega booster turned east and accelerated into orbit with LISA Pathfinder, deploying the satellite an hour and 45 minutes later.
The European Space Agency’s $550 million Aeolus science mission, the product of a drawn-out 16-year development effort that required engineers to master new technologies, is in the starting blocks on a launch pad in French Guiana awaiting liftoff Wednesday to monitor wind speeds from space for the first time on a global scale.
The first in a planned multi-decade series of European land imaging satellites is fastened on top of a solid-fueled Vega launcher at a French Guiana space base for liftoff Monday, kicking off a mission to track everything from global crop growth to urban sprawl.
Two days after launch from Kazakhstan, a Russian Soyuz ferry ship glided to a smooth docking with the International Space Station Saturday, bringing a veteran cosmonaut, a Frenchman making his first flight and NASA’s most experienced female astronaut to the lab complex.