Vega-C lifts off on maiden flight

TAMPA, Fla. — Europe’s new Vega-C medium-lift rocket lifted off on its maiden flight July 13, carrying an Italian physics satellite and six cubesats.

The four-stage rocket launched from Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:13 a.m. Eastern on a mission that will last about two hours and 15 minutes.

Italy’s 295-kilogram Laser Relativity Satellite-2, or LARES-2, is the primary payload and will be placed in an unusual inclined orbit at 5,893 kilometers to test Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

SpaceNews is continuing to follow Vega C’s debut launch.

Vega-C has more powerful rocket motors and a larger payload volume than Vega, which is retiring after first launching a decade ago.

The upgraded rocket can carry about 2.3 metric tons to a reference 700-kilometer altitude polar orbit, according to the European Space Agency, compared with 1.5 metric tons for its predecessor. 

Vega C’s first stage is powered by a P120 engine that will also be used by Europe’s upcoming Ariane 6 launcher, which has two variants for replacing Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the medium-lift Soyuz rocket that was sourced from Russia.

ESA said July 12 that the Ariane 6 central core, comprising its core stage and upper stage, had been transferred to a launchpad in Kourou for combined tests ahead of a maiden launch next year.

The central core is joined by three pylons shaped like the rocket’s solid boosters, and an inert mockup of the fourth booster, for tests that include filling tanks and an automated countdown sequence.

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