Ceres | Vega

Lift Off Time
November 16, 2021 – 09:27:55 UTC | 06:27:55 GFT
Mission Name
CERES, Flight VV20
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
(Who paid for this?)
CNES on behalf of French Ministry for the Armed Forces (DGA)
Launch Location
ELV-1, Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana, France
Payload mass
1548 kg
Where did the satellites go?
Low Earth orbit (LEO) at 75° inclination
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, this is not a capability of Vega
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
No, this is not a capability of Vega
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
– 12th Arianespace launch in 2021
– 3rd Vega launch in 2021

– 20th Vega mission
– 287th Arianespace mission
– 112th orbital launch attempt in 2021 (105th successful)
Where to watch
Arianespace official replay

How Did It Go?

Arianespace successfully launched three CERES (Capacité de Renseignement Electromagnétique Spatiale or Space Signal Intelligence Capacity) satellites atop the Vega rocket on November 16, 2021. The mission marked the 300th Arianespace launch from the Guiana Space Centre in the French Guiana.


CERES is a French reconnaissance satellite mission, which consists of three satellites flying in formation in low Earth orbit (LEO). Once operational, it will be the first operational space-based signal intelligence (SIGINT) system in Europe. The mission will be conducted by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) and will be supported by the French space agency, CNES.

The two primary contractors for the CERES mission are Airbus Defense and Space and Thales Defense Mission Systems. Airbus has been contracted for the space segment, including the three satellites, while Thales is contracted for the payload and providing the EliteBus satellite buses, as well as the user ground segment of the mission.

Render of CERES in orbit. (Credit: CNES)

What Is Vega?

Vega is Arianespace’s small-lift rocket, built by the Italian aerospace company Avio. Vega is named after the brightest star in constellation Lyra. The rocket is 30 m (98 ft) tall, with a diameter of 3 m (~10 ft), and has three solid motor stages topped by a liquid propellant fourth stage. Vega first launched in 2012 and has suffered two launch failures, one in 2019 (VV15) and another in 2020 (VV17).

Vega rocket
Vega rocket (left) alongside Vega-C, Ariane 5, and two Ariane 6 configurations (Credit: ESA–David Ducros, Jacky Huart, 2016)

First Stage

Vega’s first stage, P80, is 10.6 m long with a diameter of 3 m. The stage uses Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) for propellant. The rocket motor burns for a duration of 110 seconds and is jettisoned at an altitude of ~53 km. The stage generates an average thrust of 3,015 kN and has a specific impulse of 280 seconds.

Second Stage

The rocket’s second stage, Zefiro 23, is 7.5 m in length with a diameter of 1.9 m. Similarly to the first stage, this stage uses HTPB propellant. The rocket motor burns for a duration of 77 seconds, providing 1,122 kN of thrust, and has a specific impulse of 287.5 seconds.

Third Stage

The third stage, Zefiro 9, is 3.9 m long with a diameter of 1.9 m. Just like the first and second stages, the third stage also uses HTPB propellant. This stage’s motor provides 314 kN of thrust while it burns for a duration of 117.1 seconds. It has a specific impulse of 295.2 seconds.

vega, stages
Exploded view of Vega’s stages (Credit: ESA)

Fourth Stage

The fourth and final stage of the Vega rocket, AVUM (Attitude & Vernier Upper Module), is 1.7 m long, with a diameter of 2 m. The stage uses hypergolic propellants, unsymmetrical di-methyl hyrdazine (UDMH) for fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) as oxidizer. On this stage, the engine burns for 723 seconds, with a specific impulse of 314.6 seconds.

Following the first burn, the stage entered a coast phase for 37 minutes. After this, the engine restarted for a second burn, which lasted just over a minute.


Vega’s fairings were designed and manufactured by Swiss company RUAG space. They are 7.8 m tall and 2.6 m in diameter, with a mass of 400 kg.

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