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Vega Upper Stage
Vega Upper Stage
Credit: NASA
Primarily Italian all-solid propellant launch vehicle. After years of furious debate, a $173 million development program began, 52% funded by Italy and 34% by France. As of the first firing of the P80 first stage motor at the end of 2006, first flight had slipped into 2008 from a 2007 original planned date.

Status: Active. First Launch: 2012-02-13. Last Launch: 2017-03-07. Number: 9 . Payload: 1,500 kg (3,300 lb). Thrust: 3,040.00 kN (683,410 lbf). Gross mass: 137,000 kg (302,000 lb). Height: 30.00 m (98.00 ft). Diameter: 3.00 m (9.80 ft). Apogee: 700 km (430 mi).

Italy long tried to carve a niche for itself as a supplier of solid-propellant orbital launch vehicles, beginning with the San Marco Scout program in the 1960's. The hoped-for Advanced Scout 2 never materialized, and in the mid-1990s, the Italian Space Agency turned to a concept called VEGA (Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata). This went through several versions:

  • 1995 - Three-stage vehicle. The first two stages would use a BPD Zefiro motor, 1.9 m in diameter with a mass of 16 metric tons. A nose fairing would cover the payload and the third stage, an IRIS (Italian Research Interim Stage) apogee kick stage, 1.3 m in diameter with a mass of 1.7 metric tons. Maximum payload would be 700 kg to low earth orbit.

  • 1997 - FIAT Avio collaborated with NPO Yuzhnoye to propose two possible variants:

    • Vega K0 - a four stage vehicle, again using two P16 Zefiros as the first and second stages. The upper stages would be built by Yuzhnoye and use N2O4/UDMH liquid propellants. The third stage would use a 78 kN RD-861 engine, and the fourth an RD-869. Payload would be 300 kg to a 700 km polar orbit.
    • Vega K - The first stage would be a P85 shortened Ariane 5 solid rocket booster. Payload would be 1600 kg to a 700 km polar orbit.

  • 1998 - the configuration selected at an ESA council meeting in June 1998 was a three-stage solid vehicle. This would use the P85/P16 lower stages of the Vega K but have a single West European third stage. Provisionally this would be built by Aerospatiale and be a 7 metric ton P7 solid propellant stage with an auxiliary liquid propulsion module for high-accuracy orbital insertion. This could place a 2,000 kg payload into a 700 km circular orbit.
  • 2004 - the final configuration selected for development was a four-stage solid vehicle. This would use a smaller P80 first stage and P23/P9 upper stages derived from the Vega K's P16, together with a liquid AUVM fourth stage for payload insertion. This could place a 1,500 kg payload into a 700 km polar orbit.

Although BPD conducted the first static firing of a P16 Zefiro on June 22, 1998, the collapse of the space launch market, the multiple Ariane 5 failures, and the costs of the International Space Station put the Vega very far back on ESA's priority list. By the end of 2006 all of the Vega's solid stages had been test fired, but the AUVM upper stage was becoming the pacing item.

LEO Payload: 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) to a 700 km orbit at 98.00 degrees.

More at: Vega.

Family: all-solid, orbital launch vehicle. Country: Italy. Engines: RD-861G. Spacecraft: Almasat, IXV, LARES, LARES Support System, LEOStar-2, Sentinel, PROBA, Cubesat, Myriade. Launch Sites: Kourou ZLV, Kourou ELV. Stages: P80, Zefiro 23, Zefiro 9. Bibliography: 572.

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