[Satnews] Arianespace marked another mission accomplished for science as its light-lift Vega vehicle successfully launched Europe’s pioneering LISA Pathfinder technology demonstrator, which will study the ripples in space-time predicted by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Lifting off from the Spaceport’s SLV launch site at 1:04 a.m. local time in French Guiana—the planned precise moment of launch—Vega lofted its passenger during a flight lasting approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes and 33 seconds, with LISA Pathfinder placed in an initial elliptical Earth orbit.
During a subsequent step, this spacecraft will use its own propulsion module to reach an operational orbit around the first Sun-Earth Lagrange point (L1), which is located approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
In post-launch comments from the Spaceport, Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël congratulated this mission’s customer—the European Space Agency (ESA)—and underscored his company’s continuing contributions to space research and science at the service of European institutions.
Speaking directly about the LISA Pathfinder launch with Vega, he added: “It is a true honor for Arianespace to be involved in the LISA adventure, which is so fundamental for human knowledge of the universe and the laws of physics.”
To evaluate the concept of low-frequency gravitational wave detection, LISA Pathfinder—which was produced by Airbus Defence and Space— will put two test masses in a near-perfect gravitational free fall, controlling and measuring their motion with unprecedented accuracy.
The test masses will be suspended inside their own vacuum containers, with LISA Pathfinder designed as the quietest spacecraft ever launched, allowing for extremely small distance measurements with the masses to be performed by an onboard interferometer.
Tonight’s mission—designated Flight VV06—marked the sixth launch of a lightweight Vega, which joins Arianespace’s medium-lift Soyuz and heavyweight Ariane 5 to form the world’s most capable family of launchers, operating side-by-side at the Spaceport.
In a major milestone, tonight’s mission was the sixth and final flight as part of European Space Agency-managed VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) program to showcase this vehicle's flexibility and versatility in a variety of mission types. Following the achievements during this development phase, Vega is ready to be declared fully operational.
“Vega is keeping up with all its promises,” added Arianespace’s Israël. “From a technical standpoint first, thanks to its flawless record so far and to its versatility, truly demonstrated by the variety of missions it is able to address. Thanks also to the successful ramp-up operated in 2015, with three launches performed in one single year.”
The development of Vega was carried out in a multi-nationally-financed European Space Agency program, with the launcher’s design authority and prime contractor role performed by Italy’s ELV company—a joint venture of Avio and the Italian Space Agency.
Vega Flight VV06 was the 11th launch with an Arianespace family vehicle in 2015, continuing the company’s record pace of 12 missions performed from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana during the year. It builds upon two additional Vega successes (in February and June), plus six with Ariane 5 and two with Soyuz.