Vega passes latest test

The upper composite of ESA’s new small launcher has successfully passed its vibration tests at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC).

Vega’s components are built and tested at various locations across Europe. The first launch is planned for the end of 2007 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Vega, which is being built by European industry under the leadership of Italy’s ELV, is a small launch vehicle designed to carry payloads in the range 300kg to 2.5 tonnes into low Earth orbits. The typical reference for Vega’s launch capacity is to carry 1500kg to a 700km altitude polar orbit. Vega will be particularly suitable for the launch of scientific and Earth observation missions.

During the launch of a rocket, vibrations occur due to engine ignition, the thrust of the engines and the high-speed flow of air over the body of the vehicle as it accelerates through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The upper composite that has just been tested is the top part of the launcher, which houses the navigation, communications and control equipment. The payload is carried on top of the composite, protected by a streamlined fairing, or nosecone. During testing, a mechanically representative model of a real satellite was used.

In order to confirm that the upper composite will be able to withstand the vibrations that it will experience during launch, it was mounted on the ‘multi-shaker’ in the Test Centre at ESTEC. This electrodynamic vibration table applied accelerations to the base of the composite while around 400 accelerometers and 40 strain gauges measured the movements and forces within the structure, confirming that the design calculations are correct.

At the end of 2006, reports on all the tests will be presented at the “Critical Design Review”. If Vega passes this final examination, production of components for the qualification flight launcher will proceed.