Why is it important for Europe to successfully launch the Vega-C rocket, the younger sister of Ariane 6?

Play your own part in the strategic, fierce and rewarding race for satellite launchers. This is the challenge represented by the successful maiden flight this Wednesday from Kourou of the “small” Vega-C rocket for Europe in space. After two abortive counts, the 35-meter-high machine soared into the Guyanese sky, relatively simply inaugurating the start of the reign of a new generation of launchers for the European Space Agency (ESA).

“This is the culmination of a decision made in December 2014 by the European Space Agency, recalled Jean-Marc Astorg, Director of Strategy at Cnes. That the replacement of the three Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz launchers with two more competitive launcher in the world market: Ariane 6 and Vega-C ”. To scan all spectra from new satellites, institutional or commercial, small or large, solo or in clusters.

Even if the first flight of the Ariane 6 heavy launcher is posted in 2023, the range of light launchers has therefore been successfully modernized. Because the Vega -C – “C” for consolidation – is the doped version of its predecessor, built by the same Italian industrialist Avio. It will be able to put in lower orbit a total mass of 2.2 tonnes compared to 1.5 tonnes for the Vega, launched 20 times, including two that have not been successful, since 2012.

17,000 satellites will be launched in 10 years

And this new ship from the European fleet is just in time, as the American SpaceX program stars in the niche and demand explodes. “We have a very significant increase in the number of small satellites. So it is interesting to have launchers that are well adapted”, stressed Jean-Marc Astorg.

According to specialty company Euroconsult, more than 17,000 satellites are expected to be launched by 2031, ie 4.5 times more than in the previous decade. And among them, a large majority of actually small satellites will be sent into low orbit, as Vega-C now knows how to do it. With its increased performance, she can account for 90% of the market for satellites in low orbit at a few hundred kilometers altitude, against half for Vega, according to Avio, who was interviewed by AFP.

Finally, Vega-C will leave a small amount of waste in the space after it is finished. The fourth phase of this could be reigned and allow the satellites to be placed in different orbits before deorbiting themselves.

Brothers and now neighbors

Also, this Wednesday, it was also a small piece of the Ariane 6 that flew. The “P120C”, the first stage of the rocket, is a common module with the Ariane 6, which will serve as a booster booster. A good quality fit for the economy of both programs. And, proof that the destinations of the big rocket and its younger sister are involved, the central body of an Ariane 6 was placed upright for the first time on its Kourou launch pad on July 2. The assembly of the new generation that big rocket will continue there, accompanied by a whole battery of tests.

And don’t tell Europeans they’re behind Elon Musk. In addition, the strategy is not the same. The Ariane 6 and Vega-C do not include reusable modules like the famous Falcon 9 rocket in Space X. the launcher is available, it is reliable, and the cost is attractive. Reuse, there is not much interest for him, it may still represent a certain number of constraints ”, explained the director of strategy at Cnes. The rocket came back, the Europeans worked on it, “with new engines and new demonstrators”. But it’s so much more for the next generation. After Ariane 6 and Vega-C. And in the meantime, the small rocket can still drop the Space Rider, a small orbital module capable of returning from its mission.

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