SSMS POC | Vega

Lift Off Time (Subject to change)
September 3, 2020 – 01:51:10 UTC
Mission Name and what it is
Flight VV16, SSMS-POC
Launch Provider (What rocket company is launching it?)
Arianespace
Customer (who’s paying for this?)
European Space Agency (ESA)
Rocket
Vega
Launch Location
Guiana Space Centre (CSG*), Kourou, French Guiana

Vega Launch Site (SLV**)

Payload mass
830 kg (1,830 lb)
Where’s the satellite going?
Sun-Synchronous Polar Orbit 700 km/430 mi
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No, the first stage is not recoverable.
Where will the first stage land?
The first stage will crash into the Atlantic Ocean
Will they be attempting to recover the fairing?
No, the fairing is not recoverable
This will be the:
  • 16th flight of a Vega rocket
  • Fifth mission for Arianespace in 2020
Where to watch
Arianespace YouTube channel

What’s all this mean?

The Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof of Concept (POC) mission is a return-to-flight for the Arianespace Vega Rocket. It’s also a test flight for the SSMS dispenser carrying multiple small satellites for ESA. However, COVID-19 caused the launch’s postponement indefinitely on March 16, 2020. With pandemic restrictions relaxed, the launch will be from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG*) in South America on September 2, 2020 UTC time.

What is the Payload?

SSMS POC Dispenser

The Vega Proof of Concept (POC) flight is the first Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) mission. Its purpose is to service the fledgling microsatellite market for both institutional and commercial needs with a new rideshare concept on the Vega light-lift launcher.

Vega Rocket

Vega Rocket breakdown
Image Credit: Arianespace

Vega is the light-lift part of the Arianespace launch vehicle family, alongside the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the medium-lift Soyuz. These launch vehicles are operated from CSG in South America. Avio, based in Colleferro, Italy, is Vega’s industrial prime contractor. The 16th Arianespace Vega launch, also known as Flight VV16, will place the SSMS POC mission into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Vega’s target payload lift capability is 1,500 kg, on missions to a 700 km circular orbit.

Falcon Eye 1 Launch Failure

A launch failure on Vega rocket Flight VV15,  in July 2019, destroyed the United Arab Emirates (UEA) Falcon Eye 1 Earth observing satellite. Since that incident, the Vega rocket has not flown.

After an independent panel review in September 2019, the prime suspect was the rocket’s second stage. According to SpaceNews, UAE insured Falcon Eye 1 for about $415 million USD. Vega’s failure was the space insurance industry’s largest loss ever.

So, the follow-up mission, Falcon Eye 2, was supposed to launch on a Vega rocket.  As a result of the launch failure, Airbus asked Arianespace to switch Falcon Eye 2 to the Soyuz rocket.  Hence, the switch is an attempt to avoid further delays getting Falcon Eye 2 into orbit. It also means that due to the change in payload, the SSMS POC mission is the Vega rocket’s return-to-flight.

Where’s It Launching From?

SSMS POC’s launch facilities are near the Earth’s equator in South America. The Guiana Space Center (CSG) is where Arianespace launches all its rockets from. In operation since 1968, that means CSG is Europe’s spaceport, based in Kourou, French Guiana. The spaceport accommodates Vega launches at the SLV launch complex.

Vega Launch Site

The Vega Launch Site (SLV**) is built on the Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 1 (ELA1) previously used for the Ariane 1 and Ariane 3 launch vehicles. SLV is located one kilometer South-West of the Ariane 5 launch pad Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 3 (ELA3) and provides the same services for combined launch vehicle operations with spacecraft.

CNES

An agreement between France and the European Space Agency (ESA) governs CSG and also covers the newer Soyuz and Vega installations. The French National Space Agency (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales—CNES) manages day-to-day operations at CSG on behalf of ESA. CNES provides range support to Arianespace, for spacecraft, launch vehicle preparation and launch.

COVID-19

The SSMS-POC mission is postponed indefinitely. On Monday, March 16, 2020, Arianespace announced that it was postponing all launch operations at CSG because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, CNES is adhering to French government health guidelines after the pandemic’s widespread outbreak in Europe. CNES announced in late May 2020 that Vega launches would resume in mid to late June, while Soyuz flights would resume in September.

* CSG is the French acronym standing for Centre Spatial Guyanais.
** SLV is the French acronym standing for Site de Lancement Vega.

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