The European carrier rocket, Vega-C, successfully completed its maiden flight on July 13th. The rocket, designed and manufactured in Italy, took off from the ESA space port in French Guyana. On board were the Italian Space Agency satellite, LARES2, and six CubeSats, including Astrobio and Greencube, which were developed by the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and the Sapienza University of Rome for the ASI. The ASI is the main contributor to the development of the Vega carrier rocket, which is manufactured by AVIO in Italy. The mission lasted approximately two hours and fifteen minutes.
The president of the ASI, Giorgio Saccoccia, expressed his satisfaction with the success of the maiden flight, stating that Europe now has a more efficient and flexible carrier rocket to meet the growing demands of the commercial and institutional satellite market. He also highlighted Italy’s position as a leader in the European supply chain for the Vega program and praised the successful launch of the LARES2 satellite, which is of great importance to the scientific community.
Vega-C offers improved performance and competitiveness compared to its predecessor, Vega. It has enhanced first, second, and fourth stages, as well as a higher load capacity ranging from 1.5 to nearly 2.2 tons in polar orbit. The higher stage, AVUM+, has a greater liquid propellant capacity and can deploy multiple useful payloads in different orbits during a single mission.
The main payload of the mission, LARES2, is a scientific satellite developed by the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) in collaboration with researchers from the Fermi Research Centre and the Sapienza University of Rome. Its purpose is to measure the frame-dragging effect, a space-time distortion caused by the rotation of a massive body like Earth, as predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. LARES2’s predecessor, LARES, was the main payload of the Vega maiden flight in 2012.
In addition to LARES2, Vega-C also released six CubeSats into orbit. These CubeSats were selected by the European Space Agency and manufactured by European universities and research centers. One of the CubeSats, Astrobio, is an Italian project developed by INAF, the Sapienza University of Rome, and the School of Aerospace Engineering of the Sapienza University of Rome. It hosts a miniaturized laboratory for conducting bioanalytical experiments in space with potential applications in planetary exploration missions. The other CubeSats include Greencube, Alpha, Trisat-R, MTCube-2, and Celesta.
Overall, the successful maiden flight of Vega-C marks a significant milestone for Europe’s space industry and Italy’s position in the field of space transport. The improved capabilities of Vega-C will contribute to meeting the growing demands of the satellite market and enable longer operating times and more extended missions in space.