Arianespace’s Vega rocket returned to flight on late April 28 evening, launching a next-generation Earth Observation (EO) Pléiades Neo satellite for Airbus, along with five rideshare small satellites. The launch from French Guiana was the second Arianespace launch in less than 72 hours.
The light lift Vega vehicle took off from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana at 10:50 PM local time on April 28. Airbus confirmed after the launch that the first telemetry signals were received from Pléiades Neo.
This was the first Vega mission after the VV17 mission failure in November 2020. Avio, the industrial prime contractor for the Vega launcher, prepped for the mission under the direction of Arianespace and ESA, following the recommendations issued by the independent inquiry commission for the VV17 mission.
In a statement, Jean-Marc Nasr, head of Space Systems at Airbus, said: “Pléiades Neo is a game-changer for Airbus and its geo-intelligence customers. We can offer a state of the art constellation delivering 30cm resolution imagery in near real-time, opening up a completely new range of applications to give our customers more detail, more quickly.”
Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, said: “I would like to congratulate everybody involved at Arianespace, ESA and Avio for successfully returning Vega to flight. I am especially proud of our teams who were able to carry out two launches, on two different continents, in less than 72 hours – kudos!”
The Pléiades Neo satellite is the first of a constellation of four satellites built and operated by Airbus. Each satellite will add half a million square kilometres per day at 30 cm native resolution. The satellites also have inter-satellite links with SpaceDataHighway (EDRS) Geostationary (GEO) satellites to acquire imagery 30 to 40 minutes after a tasking request. The next satellite, Pléiades Neo 4, is already in Kourou set to launch this summer.
With the success of Wednesday’s return-to-flight mission, Arianespace and its Vega rocket are on track to launch another Pléiades Neo satellite this year, and the company expects to use Vega to complete the four-satellite constellation in 2022.