European governments and industry on Sept. 8 announced they had signed contracts calling for the production of the first Vega small-satellite launch vehicle and a separate contract covering the delivery of the five subsequent Vega rockets.

In the first contract, the Arianespace launch consortium and the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA) signed a contract covering the first Vega launch, now scheduled for sometime in 2011 from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Built with three solid-fueled stages and a liquid-fueled, restartable upper stage, Vega is designed to carry a 1,500-kilogram science or Earth observation satellite into a 700-kilometer Earth orbit. It will be operated alongside the heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA and the medium-lift Soyuz.

In the second contract, Evry, France-based Arianespace and Vega prime contractor ELV of Colleferro, Italy, agreed on terms for the delivery of the five follow-on Vega vehicles. ELV, which is 70 percent owned by Avio Group of Italy and 30 percent by the Italian Space Agency, will be building Vega under contract to Arianespace, which is in charge of operating and marketing the rocket.

Some two-thirds of Vega’s construction is being done in Italy, with the Italian government paying an equivalent share of the rocket’s development costs.