A four-stage Vega launcher blasts off from French Guiana on Wednesday night. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – JM Guillon
A European Vega rocket deployed six commercial satellites in orbit, including a new Airbus-built eye-in-the-sky for high-resolution Earth-imaging, on a successful launch from French Guiana on Wednesday night after two of the last three Vega missions failed.
The 98-foot-tall (30-meter) Vega rocket fired off its launch mount at the Guiana Space Center in South America at 9:50:47 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0150:47 GMT Thursday) and rapidly climbed through the atmosphere, exceeding the speed of sound in just 31 seconds.
Heading north over the Atlantic Ocean, the Vega rocket’s first stage booster consumed its pre-packed solid propellant in two minutes, then jettisoned as the second stage’s solid-fueled motor ignited to continue the ascent into space. A third stage solid motor later ignited, then a hydrazine-fed reignitable fourth stage engine fired to precisely place the mission’s six satellite payloads into two distinct orbits.
The fourth stage deployed Airbus’s Pléiades Neo 3 remote sensing satellite into a polar orbit about 54 minutes after liftoff. After separating from the rocket at an altitude of 392 miles (632 kilometers), the Pléiades Neo 3 ...