WASHINGTON — A Vega rocket successfully launched a dozen small satellites Oct. 8 while its more powerful version remains grounded for another year.
The Vega rocket lifted off from the European spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:36 p.m. Eastern. The launch was originally scheduled for Oct. 6 but scrubbed in the final minute of the countdown. Arianespace said the delay was due to “a measurement slightly above its maximum threshold” but did not elaborate. The company rescheduled the launch to Oct. 7 but pushed it back an additional day to complete checks on the vehicle.
The two largest payloads on the launch were THEOS-2 and FORMOSAT-7R/TRITON, both placed in sun-synchronous orbits between 600 and 617 kilometers nearly 55 minutes after liftoff.
The 417-kilogram THEOS-2 was built by Airbus Defence and Space for Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency. It will provide imagery at resolutions of up to 0.5 meters, providing service continuity for the 15-year-old THEOS-1, also built by Airbus.
FORMOSAT-7R/TRITON was built and will be operated by the Taiwan Space Agency. The 241-kilogram satellite will collect radio occultation data from navigation satellites for use in weather forecasting.
The Vega carried 10 secondary payloads, cubesats ranging in size from 3U to 12U. The satellites come from a variety of European developers, including those supported by the European Space Agency and European Union, primarily for technology demonstration purposes. Those satellites were released 1 hour and 44 minutes after liftoff, although Arianespace said in an Oct. 9 statement that it was still awaiting confirmation of the deployment of two of the cubesats.
The launch, designated VV23 by Arianespace, was the first for the Vega family of vehicles since the December 2022 failure of the more powerful Vega C on its second launch. That failure was blamed on the Zefiro 40 motor used as the second stage of the Vega C. The original Vega, flown on this launch, uses the smaller Zefiro 23 motor as its second stage.
The Vega C remains grounded after an anomaly during a static-fire test of the upgraded Zefiro 40 motor in June. The investigation into that incident found problems with the design of the motor’s nozzle after its carbon-carbon throat insert was replaced to address the cause of the December launch failure.
ESA said Oct. 2 that the return to flight of the Vega C, previously projected to take place before the end of this year, has been pushed out to the fourth quarter of 2024 to given engineers time to make changes in the motor and conduct two static-fire tests.
Arianespace said a final launch of the original version of Vega is planned for the second quarter of 2024. The customer for that launch, as well as the return to flight of Vega C, has not been announced.