PARIS — The European Space Agency (ESA) on Feb. 3 announced another delay in the inaugural flight of the Vega small-satellite launcher, saying the launch is now set for Feb. 13 from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

The four-day delay would not in itself be significant but for the fact that it now places the launch at the extreme limit of what is permissible before the Vega team must stand down for at least a month, and likely longer.

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) cargo carrier is scheduled for launch to the international space station on March 9 — a date that cannot be modified without upsetting the occasionally complex traffic management at the station, for which NASA is the general contractor.

The Vega and ATV launch campaigns use the same downrange tracking facilities, but require that these assets be placed in different locations.

Officials from ESA and the Arianespace launch consortium have said that given the time it will take to deploy between a Vega and ATV launch, Vega operations must be completed by around Feb. 14.

If Vega’s first flight is scrapped to prepare for the ATV launch, it might need to wait until early April, according to program managers.



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