. Space Travel News .

Europe stakes billion-dollar bet on new rocket
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Feb 11, 2012

A pencil-slim rocket is scheduled to lift into space from South America on Monday, carrying a billion-dollar bet that Europe can grab a juicy slice of the market to place satellites in low orbit.

The maiden flight of Vega culminates a decade-long plan to turn Europe's space base in Kourou, French Guiana, into the world's most versatile launch platform.

The launcher 30 metres (100 feet) long and three metres in diameter is designed to hoist loads ranging from 300 kilos (660 pounds) to 2.5 tonnes into orbits from 300 to 1,500 kilometres (187-937 miles) depending on mass.

If all goes well, Vega will complement the heavyweight Ariane 5, capable in its beefed-up version of lifting more than 20 tonnes, and the mid-range Soyuz, the Russian-Soviet veteran deployed to Kourou last year under a deal between Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Vega aims to shoulder its way into a market already teeming with half a dozen existing or would-be competitors, including India, China and Russia -- which is selling launchers using a converted Cold War ballistic missile -- and US commercial firms.

"Vega is a flexible vehicle, with a mission to meet demand for small payloads," said Benoit Geffroy, an engineer at ESA's launchers department.

"The big selling point will be punctuality," he said. Rivals may pitch a lower launch price but then delay their launch, which inflicts hefty indirect costs on a satellite operator, he argued.

Italy has shouldered nearly 60 percent of the 776 million euros (1.008 billion dollars) cost of building the rocket.

ESA members have committed another 400 million euros in launch contracts and other work to guarantee Vega's future.

The rocket is centred on an Italian design that has raised eyebrows for its complexity.

Rocket makers usually try to reduce the number of stages as far as possible to avoid the risk of failure if a stage does not separate or if a motor refuses to ignite.

But Vega uses four stages to propel a small payload into low orbit. The reason: the rocket uses solid fuel, an energy source that cannot be turned on and off as easily as liquid propellant, so having additional stages offers flexibility in swiftly boosting or slowing a flight.

Another innovation, said Carine Leveau of France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), is a first stage whose body is made of light-but-tough carbon fibre, a precious gain in the quest for low-cost reliability.

Monday's launch, scheduled for 1000 GMT, is a "qualification" flight with a scientific payload.

Its main satellite, a tungsten sphere called Lares, is designed to study the so-called Lense-Thirring effect -- a strange component of Einstein's theory of general relativity which says that as Earth (or any other big mass) rotates, it drags space and time around with it.

To measure this, Lares is studded with reflectors on which ground-based laser beams will be aimed in order to measure the satellite's time and distance as it zips around the globe.

The other principal satellite, AlmaSat-1, will test new civilian technologies in Earth observation.

The rest of the payload is taken up by seven so-called picosatellites, essentially cubes each weighing less than a kilo (2.2 pounds), in which European universities have each packed a separate experiment.

They include the very first Polish, Romanian and Hungarian satellites, according to ESA.

Related Links
Rocket Science News at Space-Travel.Com

Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
Buy Advertising Editorial Enquiries

And it's 3... 2... 1... blastoff! Discover the thrill of a real-life rocket launch.


. Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Birthday Cake for X-37B
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Feb 09, 2012
It's almost time to light a candle for one of the world's most intriguing spacecraft. No, I don't mean ignite the rocket for launch. The second mission of the X-37B robot spaceplane is approaching the one-year mark on its mission. On March 5, it will celebrate this milestone, assuming that the spacecraft is still in orbit. Nobody knows exactly when X-37B will return to Earth. Right now, th ... read more

April new date for SpaceX capsule launch

SpaceX to Launch AsiaSat 6 and AsiaSat 8 in 2014

Mobile Launcher Tests Confirm Designs

Iran to launch new generation of satellites

Spectra Systems Products on Their Way to Mars

Mars Science Lab Computer Issue Resolved

NASA budget will axe Mars deal with Europe: scientists

Mars radar finds possible ocean sediments

China publishes high-resolution full moon map

Europe stakes billion-dollar bet on new rocket

Birthday Cake for X-37B

Space-tracking ship Yuanwang VI concludes trip

China's new rockets expected to debut within five years

China announces new launch rockets

Mission to Land on a Comet

Project NEOShield: Asteroid defence systems

Asteroids: The New 'It Mission' for Space Exploration

Memory Foam Mattress Review

Newsletters :: SpaceDaily Express :: SpaceWar Express :: TerraDaily Express :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement