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Successful first flight for the Vega-C rocket

on 13 July 2022

ESA’s new Vega-C rocket has successfully performed its inaugural flight on 13 July, at 16:13 Romanian local time. The launch caps a multi-year effort by ESA, prime contractor Avio and industrial partners in 13 ESA Member States to build on the heritage of its predecessor, Vega. Romania is one of the states contributing to Vega-C. Romanian entities carried out aerodynamic and acoustic tests, reviews and validations of the Vega-C navigation systems, as well as the validation of certain Space Rider systems, a space vehicle that will be launched on a Vega-C. A testing bench for the Vega-E liquid oxygen turbopump is also being developed.

The European launcher will contribute to the increase of global-wide European competitiveness. Vega-C represents a dramatic capability boost compared to its predecessor, Vega, which has flown since 2012. With new first and second stages and an uprated fourth stage, Vega-C increases performance from Vega’s 1.5 t to about 2.2 t in a reference 700 km polar orbit.

Vega-C features a new, more powerful first stage, P120C, based on Vega’s P80. Atop that is a new second stage, Zefiro-40, and then the same Zefiro-9 third stage as used on Vega. 

The re-ignitable upper stage is also improved. AVUM+ has increased liquid propellant capacity, to deliver payloads to multiple orbits depending on mission requirements and to allow for longer operational time in space, to enable extended missions.

The P120C motor will do double service, with either two or four units acting as strap-on boosters for Ariane 6. Sharing this component streamlines industrial efficiency and improves cost-effectiveness of both European launchers.

With its larger main stages and bigger fairing – which doubles the payload volume compared to Vega – Vega-C measures 34.8 m high, nearly 5 m taller than Vega.

The new launcher configuration delivers a significant improvement in launch system flexibility. Vega-C can orbit larger satellites, two main payloads or can accommodate various arrangements for rideshare missions. ESA’s upcoming Space Rider return-to-Earth vehicle will be launched to orbit on Vega-C.

The Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) has made the participation of Romania in Vega-C a priority, so that the Romanian space community could have access to this key domain: space transportation.

“Romania’s participation in the ESA optional programme for launchers, in particular in Vega-C, Ariane 6 and Space Rider represents a key investment in the future of space in Romania. We have opened the door to Romanian organisations to contribute to the development of the latest European rockets and space vehicles. In collaborating with major European integrators and well-established European companies, we have developed critical capabilities in our country ”, declared Dr. Phys. Marius-Ioan Piso, President of the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA).

The National Institute of Aerospace Research “Elie Carafoli” - INCAS played an important role in the creation and design of the rocket model, using multiple sensors, as well as aerodynamic and aeroacoustic tests in the institution’s sonic tunnel, at speeds between Mach 0,5 and Mach 3,5.

Moreover, Control Data Systems SRL executes Independent Software Verification and Validation (ISVV) activities for the VEGA Navigation Equipment, as subcontractors for the Italian company Avio.

The Romanian Research & Development Institute for Gas Turbines COMOTI  is developing a testing bench for the liquid oxygen Vega-E turbopump. This will allow the testing of a larger turbopump family.

In addition to that, the Atos team of space experts based in Romania significantly contributed to the “Space Rider” space transportation system, which will be integrated into Vega-C, by implementing the Electrical Ground Support Equipment which supports integration and validation for various systems of Space Rider.

Since 2012, Vega has played a fundamental role in the space transportation sector. Its ongoing development and future evolutions, together with Ariane 6, will further increase European competitiveness beyond 2025. This is a response to the rapid growth of worldwide competition and offers a family of configurations based on common building blocks.

As Vega-C begins operations, development continues. Another variant, Vega-E, will from 2026  provide a simplified architecture by replacing both the Vega-C third and fourth stages with a new  cryogenic upper stage.

VV21 was operated by ESA, which owns the Vega-C programme and oversees its development. Following Vega’s success, Member States at the ESA ministerial meeting in December 2014 agreed  to develop the more powerful Vega-C to respond to an evolving market and long-term institutional  needs. ESA Member States participating in the Vega-C programme are Austria, Belgium, Czech  Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden and  Switzerland.

Find out more details here.

Image credit: ESA