Saturday, September 5, 2020

Vega, the Italian rocket in orbit with 53 satellites

 Fifty-three satellites in orbit with a single launch; a true European record was achieved by the Italian carrier Vega which departed last night from the Kourou base in French Guiana. The exploit is the result of an innovation supported by ESA and the 2020 program of the European Commission thanks to which AIO, the Colleferro company producing the rocket, have designed a system capable of bringing many small satellites into orbit at the same time.

 Micro satellites

 The “dispenser” in this case housed seven heavy micro satellites from 15 to 150 kilograms and 46 Cube Sats, even lighter and smaller “nano satellites” supplied by 21 customers from 13 different countries: from the United States to Canada, from Luxembourg to Switzerland, from Slovenia to Argentina, from Spain to Holland, from France to Russia. Until now, small satellites traveled as secondary loads of large satellites; thanks to the dispenser manufactured in carbon fiber by SAB Aerospace, the entire volume of the rocket's nose can be exploited to the fullest in a single launch. 

Variable orbit 

All 53 satellites were successfully released in 104 minutes on an orbit ranging from 515 to 530 kilometers in height.  The sixteenth flight of the Italian rocket also symbolically marks the resumption of Italian space activities after the difficult period of Covid-19 which had forced the Ariane space company, which manages the launches to block the activities of the base in Guyana. In fact, Vega was due to leave in March and, in addition to the postponements for the launch of an Ariana 5, the weather difficulties were added to the resumption in June. But at 3.51 am on Thursday Italian time Vega detached itself from the ramp with its precious load, showing that the difficulties manifested in the previous attempt to have been adequately corrected. 

The restart with technicians and engineers in Guyana had been organized during the summer, respecting the strict safety requirements imposed by the pandemic. For the Italian rocket, flight was a test because it marked an evolution in capabilities compared to previous launches, which began in 2012. Since then, the space transport market has increasingly developed in the direction of small satellites, now able to perform operations before reserved only for giants. Proof of this is precisely the multitude of spacecraft of varied nature transported by Vega whose capabilities range from Earth observation to tele communications. 

Orbital taxi 

Another important result of Italian innovation is that of the D-Orbit company which created the taxi-orbital, a satellite capable of placing cube satstran sported inside it to the desired points of the orbit. Anyone can book the flight of their satellite on the Internet. Furthermore, for the first time, an artificial intelligence system developed by the University of Pisa was tested on one of them. The launch of Vega symbolically represents the restart of Italy in Space after the lockdown that slowed production, but did not stop creativity, and the desire to innovate in this important sector of the Italian economy, notes the president of ASI Georgia Iaccoca.