TAMPA, Florida – The small Vega launch vehicle returned to flight on April 28, carrying the next-generation imaging satellite for Airbus Defense and Space, which was delayed by numerous delays.
Arianespace successfully fired the rocket 21:50 East from the Space Center in Guyana.
Pleiades Neo 3, the first 30-centimeter high-resolution satellite in a new constellation built and operated by Airbus was released from the rocket in a mission that lasted an hour and 42 minutes after takeoff.
Five auxiliary payloads were in the Small Space Mission Service (SSMS) rocket deployment system: the Norwegian space agency Norsat-3̵
This is Vega’s first mission since the failure to launch on November 16 destroyed two Earth observation satellites: the Spanish operator Hisdesat’s SEOSAT-Ingenio and the TARANIS spacecraft, built by the French space agency CNES.
An independent investigation cemented the failure of the cables that were incorrectly connected in the upper stage of the missile that the Italian missile manufacturer Avio is building.
The need to review this added failurehas issued another two-month delay for the first satellite in the constellation Pleiades Neo on Airbus.
The first spacecraft is scheduled to launch on the upgraded Vega C rocket in 2020.
However, Airbus shifted gears after its debut flight to the Vega C was pushed in mid-2021, following a separate failure to launch the Vega in July 2019. This failure destroyed the FalconEye1 imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates and was blamed for structural damage in the second stage of solid rocket fuel.
Pleiades Neo 3 is the first in a constellation of four identical image satellites.
A second spacecraft will be launched in July, and two more are scheduled to be loaded on a Vega C rocket in the first half of 2022.
The full constellation will be able to visit any point on Earth at least twice a day, complementing the optical and low-resolution radar (SAR) – a spacecraft that Airbus also operates.
Five years in the making, this is the company’s largest 100% self-funded space and defense program, said Francois Lombard, head of Airbus Defense and Space intelligence. SpaceNews in an interview before the start.
So far, Lombard has said that only US-based Maxar Technologies offers commercial customers 30-centimeter images with its constellation WorldView.
Pleiades Neo will be the constellation of Airbus workhorses for the next 10-12 years.
Lombard said the company’s bet on four identical satellites underscores its confidence in the market’s direction toward higher-resolution images.
“We will grab a lot of this market,” he said.
“Our expectation is that this is a market that will continue to grow.”
He pointed out that the company’s commercial drive already confirms this approach. Satellite customers typically wait to see how a spacecraft operates in orbit before making commitments, but Lombard said the company has amassed “hundreds of millions” deals in 2019.
“I can say here that we are taking advantage of the long relationship [and] trust in Airbus technology, ”he said, noting the company’s advantage in operating the spacecraft from end to end.
Reversing historical dynamics for the industry, these pre-launch customers are more on the trading side of the market, he added, while the government segment was conservative and would be more of a “second step”.
A company in China has registered for the service, Lombard told a media briefing on April 29, and there are also “some contracts” in the United States.
He set the total investment for the Pleiades Neo program at around 600 to 700 million euros (723 million to 848 million dollars).
Maxar, which is also building its own satellites, plans to launch the first two spacecraft in its $ 600 million Worldview Legion in September.
Four more WorldView Legion satellites are scheduled to launch about three to six months later.
The WorldView Legion, which Maxar expects to triple its ability to collect 30-centimeter optical images, will be launched on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Maxar he had planned to begin launching WorldView Legion satellites in the first quarter of 2021.
This article was updated on April 29 with financial details following an Airbus media briefing.