PARIS — The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Arianespace launch consortium have signed a series of contracts totaling 73.6 million euros ($103 million) related to initial government-backed launches of ESA’s Vega small-satellite launcher, ESA and Arianespace said Jan. 29.

The Vega rocket, being built by ELV of Italy, is scheduled to make its inaugural flight in late 2010 or early 2011 under current planning. Arianespace will operate Vega alongside the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket and Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz vehicle at Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

On Jan. 28, Evry, France-based Arianespace and ESA signed a contract valued at 2.6 million euros for Vega’s qualification-flight campaign and related testing. The agreement follows a late-December contract covering Arianespace’s procurement of the first five Vega rockets, including initial hardware orders for those vehicles. The December contract is valued at 66 million euros.

The full contract for the purchase of five Vega rockets will be concluded by March, according to ESA. In addition, Arianespace was given an authorization to proceed with the manufacturing of the first launcher, with a temporary spending limit of 5 million euros pending the full five-rocket order.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.