Initial Prep Complete for Vega Launch Pad in Guiana



Initial preparations for Vega’s new launch site in French Guiana have been completed, clearing the way for facility integration and qualification tests that should lead to a maiden flight of this new lightweight launcher in 2010.

Vega will be operated from the ELA-1 facility at Europe’s Spaceport, which has been refurbished and updated for missions with the third member of Arianespace’s launcher family. ELA-1 previously was used for flights of the Ariane 1 and 3 versions, entering service with the first liftoff of an Ariane 1 on December 24, 1979. Its final mission was performed with an Ariane 3 in July 1989.

Readying ELA-1 for its new “career” with Vega has a special meaning for Claude-Henri Berna, the Arianespace Vega program director in French Guiana – whose career began as a member of the team that launched Ariane 1 on its maiden flight in December 1979.

“It’s very interesting to have come full circle, and to help bring the ELA-1 launch site alive again for a new vehicle that will have an important role in expanding Arianespace’s launcher family,” Berna said in an interview at this week’s Paris Air Show.

Preparations performed for Vega’s introduction at ELA-1 include upgrading and resurfacing the concrete launch pad, installing a new purpose-built mobile gantry, refurbishing the support infrastructure (including electrical power and the environmental control system), and connecting the site’s various supply lines.

A key upcoming milestone is integrated testing with all systems and subsystems – ranging from the mobile gantry’s elevator and overhead crane to the launch site’s electrical power system. This activity should start in September, and will be followed by the assembly of a pathfinder Vega using non-flight or inert components in stacking the three-stage vehicle early next year. The launcher build-up will use a flight-qualified payload fairing, which is to fly on one of Vega’s introductory flights.

A four-month launch campaign for qualification purposes is targeted to begin just after the combined tests with the pathfinder Vega, after which the launch system will be authorized for its entry into service.

Berna said training has begun with a group of Arianespace Vega launch team members, including mission directors, payload managers and launch site operations managers.

“Vega launch teams will follow the same operational launch campaign procedures as for Ariane 5 missions,” he explained. “This maintains continuity in our overall process, and also opens the possibility of assigning personnel to either a Vega or Ariane 5 mission – which enhances our flexibility, and provides a broader experience for our personnel.”