On Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at 10:50 pm local time (01:50 UTC on Thursday, April 29), Arianespace’s first Vega mission (VV18) of the year will lift off from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, with the optical observation satellite Pleiades Neo 3.
After liftoff from the Guiana Space Center, the Vega launcher will fly for a little over six minutes, powered by the first three stages. The third stage will then fall back after separating from the upper composite, which comprises the AVUM upper stage, the Pleiades Neo 3 satellite, the SSMS and its five auxiliary passengers.
The AVUM stage will ignite its engine for the first time, in a powered phase lasting about eight minutes, followed by a ballistic phase lasting 37 minutes. The AVUM stage will then restart its engine for a second burn lasting a little over one minute, before releasing the Pleiades Neo 3 satellite.
The next two AVUM ignition phases will last about 37 minutes in all, followed by the release of the five auxiliary payloads. That will mark the end of mission VV18, one hour and 42 minutes after liftoff.
The first of four satellites in an advanced EO constellation, Pleiades Neo 3 was wholly funded and manufactured by its operator, Airbus. The 18th mission of Europe’s Vega light launcher will also orbit an observation smallsat for the Norwegian space agency, Norsat-3, plus four cubesats for the operators Eutelsat, NanoAvionics/Aurora Insight and Spire. These smallsats will be carried as auxiliary payloads on the innovative Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) deployment system. The SSMS rideshare service, developed with the support of the European space industry, was first deployed by Arianespace in September 2020.
Funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), Arianespace’s SSMS service will soon be joined by the Multiple Launch Service (MLS), a similar offering that uses the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. With these two services, Arianespace can offer a wide range of affordable launch opportunities for small satellites and constellations.
The production of the Vega launcher and preparations for mission VV18 were overseen by Avio, the prime contractor for the Vega launcher, under the direction of Arianespace and ESA. They followed all recommendations issued by the Independent Inquiry Commission established after the failure of the 17th Vega mission (VV17).