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PARIS - New Vega launcher scores success on its maiden flight on Monday morning, the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement.
Europe's first Vega rocket lifts off from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch centre in Kourou, French Guiana, February 13, 2012. The Vega rocket blasted off from French Guiana on Monday in an inaugural flight aimed at giving Europe a vehicle for scientific satellite missions. The rocket took off from the European Space Agency's launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America at 7.00 a.m. (1000 GMT), with nine scientific satellites on board. [Photo/Agencies]
The new Vega rocket, designated Flight VV01, lifted off into orbit from the new launch site at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, carrying nine satellites.
"The first Vega lifted off at 1000 GMT (11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from the new launch pad, and conducted a flawless qualification flight," the statement said.
"It is a great day for ESA, its Member States, in particularly Italy where Vega was born, for European industry and for Arianespace," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA, in the statement.
With Vega extending the family of launchers available at the spaceport, Europe now covers the full range of launch needs, from small science and Earth observation satellites to the largest missions like ESA's supply freighters to the International Space Station.
"In a little more than three months, Europe has increased the number of launchers it operates from one to three, widening significantly the range of launch services offered by the European operator Arianespace. There is not anymore one single European satellite which cannot be launched by a European launcher service," Dordain added.
The first qualification flight of the Vega launch vehicle is intended to qualify the overall lightweight rocket system.
"During the VV01 mission, a large amount of data would be collected on Vega's performance, as well as the environment experienced by the payloads. In the coming weeks, this information will be analysed in depth to confirm the full qualification of the Vega launch system, which will then be handed over to Arianespace for marketing and operations," the ESA said.
The launching marked the culmination of nine years of development by the ESA and its partners, the Italian space agency (ASI) and ELV SpA, the prime contractor for developing the vehicle, and added a new capability to Europe's fleet of launch systems.
Its main objective is to provide Europe with a safe, reliable and competitive capacity to carry science and Earth observation satellites into orbit, and complement the heavyweight Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz rockets.
Seven ESA member states including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland support the program.
Named after the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere, Vega's development officially started in 1998. It is designed to cope with a wide range of missions and payload configurations in order to respond to different market opportunities and provide great flexibility.
The first commercial contract for Vega has already been signed by Arianespace, Vega's commercial operator and more are under negotiation.