A Vega rocket fired into orbit Thursday night from French Guiana with Italy’s PRISMA hyperspectral Earth-imaging satellite, commencing a busy period for the Vega launcher program as engineers prepare for the debut of the more powerful Vega-C booster in early 2020 and study a lighter variant to better compete in the growing smallsat launch market.
Giulio Ranzo is the chief executive of Avio, the Italian company responsible for building the Vega rocket. Ranzo recently spoke with Spaceflight Now about the Vega rocket’s increasing launch rate, the debut of the new Vega C booster in 2020, and future plans to evolve the Vega design to compete with commercial microsatellite launchers.
A Vega launcher lifted off Tuesday night from a spaceport at the edge of South America’s Amazon rainforest, climbed into orbit on the power of four Italian- and Ukrainian-built rocket stages, and successfully deployed a French-built, Moroccan-owned military surveillance satellite nearly 400 miles above Earth.
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.