The Vega rocket lifted off Dec. 3 from Kourou, French Guiana, at 1:04 a.m. local time, placing the spacecraft into an elliptical parking orbit. The spacecraft will later maneuver to the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point to carry out its mission to demonstrate technologies that could be used by future spacecraft to detect gravitational waves (ESA photo)

The Dec. 3 launch of the European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder fundamental-physics spacecraft marked the end of the long demonstration phase for Europe’s Vega small-satellite launcher, which has now posted six successes in six launch attempts.

The Italian-led Vega rocket, which lifted off at 1:04 a.m. local time from Europe’s Guiana Space Center on the northeast coast of South America, has completed its European Space Agency-financed test phase, which included multiple missions to showcase Vega’s versatility.

The Arianespace launch consortium of Evry, France, purchased 10 Vega rockets from Avio SpA of Italy, which is Vega’s industrial prime contractor. Arianespace Chief Executive Stephane Israel said Arianespace has already sold nine of these vehicles.

Getting Avio to raise the production rate for Vega to be able to handle three launches per year was a major goal in bringing down Vega’s cost, and that was achieved with the three launches conducted in 2015, compared to one in 2014.

“Vega has fully proven itself,” ESA Launcher Director Gaele Winters said after the LISA Pathfinder flight. “There will now be a smooth transition to commercial use.” Vega is designed mainly for Earth observation, science and technology-demonstration satellites.


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