Vega launches second Pléiades Neo imaging satellite

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TAMPA, Fla. — Arianespace launched a second satellite for the Pléiades Neo imaging constellation Aug. 16 on a Vega rocket.

The Pléiades Neo 4 satellite lifted off from French Guiana 9:47 p.m. Eastern, successfully separating from the rocket about an hour later.

The satellite will join Pléiades Neo 3, which launched on a Vega April 28, at 620-kilometer sun-synchronous polar orbit.

Two satellites enable daily imaging of any place on Earth at 30-centimeter native resolution, according to Airbus Defence and Space, the constellation’s builder and operator.

Two more Pléiades Neo satellites are slated to launch together on an upgraded Vega C rocket in the first half of 2022 to complete the constellation.

With four satellites, Airbus said the constellation would be able to visit any point on Earth between two and four times a day. Pléiades Neo will supplement synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) and lower resolution optical spacecraft that Airbus also operates.

Other passengers

The Breizh Reconnaissance Orbiter-4 (BRO-4), a maritime surveillance nanosatellite for French startup Unseenlabs, was also on the Aug. 16 Vega flight

BRO-4 is the fourth satellite in a radio-frequency geolocation constellation that Unseenlabs aims to grow to 20-25 satellites by 2025.

Three cubesats for the European Space Agency also joined the Vega mission: 

  • Ledsat, an educational project from the University of Sapienza in Italy, aims to test technology for tracking low Earth orbit satellites.
  • Radcube from Hungarian manufacturer C3S aims to demonstrate radiation instruments for monitoring space weather.
  • Finnish space solutions firm Reaktor Space Lab’s Sunstorm has a solar X-ray spectrometer for detecting material erupting from the Sun’s surface.

The mission is Vega’s first since returning to flight April 28, following a Nov. 16 failure that an investigation pinned on improperly connected cables in the rocket’s upper stage.