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ESA’s Vega Rocket Launches Quintet Satellite Mission

Sep 19, 2016 04:48 AM EDT

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Vega rocket has launched five Earth observation satellites into two different orbits.

The complex five-satellite mission, which consisted of four satellites for Google-owned Terra Bella and one for the Peruvian government, launched on Sept. 15 at Europe's Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, marking Vega's seventh successful launch in seven missions since it debuted in February 2012.

According to a press release, the mission demonstrated the flexibility of the Vega rocket's upper stage and multisatellite carrier.

The rocket carried four SkySat microsatellites for Terra Bella, which is owned by Google and operates a constellation of satellites for commercial Earth imaging, into their target orbit around 40 minutes into the mission. The microsatellites--SkySat 4, 5, 6 and 7--had a total mass of 440 kg at liftoff and had separated from the rocket's upper stage over a ground station in South Korea in an orbit of about 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth, Spaceflight Now reports.

About 62 minutes later, the cover was released to expose the 430-kg PeruSat 1 satellite, which is Peru's first Earth observation satellite. The satellite was carried in the lower portion of Vega's Vespa dual-payload adapter system.

Vega is the new-generation rocket of French commercial launch service provider Arianespace, and is designed to carry small to medium-sized satellites. Vega offers configurations that could handle a wide range of payloads, from a single satellite to one main satellite plus small additional satellites.

"This seventh successful Vega flight since its introduction demonstrates how quickly Vega has convinced the market," Stephane Israel, Arianespace chairman and CEO, said in a report by Spaceflight Now.

"After two new contracts awarded this year, Arianespace can count on nine more Vega launch contracts in its backlog, at the service of both institutional and commercial customers."

The Vega rocket will also carry ESA's Aeolus satellite into orbit in 2017. Aeolus is the first mission to probe the Earth's winds, and will explore atmospheric dynamics, such as thunderstorms, jet streams, hurricanes and global air circulation to improve weather tracking, cloud scanning and gauging.

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