A 98-foot-tall (30-meter) Vega rocket lifts off from French Guiana on Wednesday night. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace – Photo Optique Video du CSG – JM Guillon
Delayed a year by a launch failure, the coronavirus pandemic and a stretch of stiff upper level winds this summer, an Italian-made Vega rocket vaulted into orbit from French Guiana on Wednesday night and deployed 53 small satellites from 13 countries to punctuate a flawless return to flight mission.
The rideshare launch set a record for the most satellites ever flown on a European rocket, and helped validate process changes introduced to resolve the problem on the Vega’s second stage that caused a failure on the launcher’s previous mission.
The 98-foot-tall (30-meter) rocket lit its solid-fueled first stage at 9:51:10 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0151:10 GMT Thursday), immediately boosting the Vega launcher away from the European-run Guiana Space Center on the northern coast of South America with nearly 700,000 pounds of thrust.
Heading north into a clear late night sky, the Vega rocket flew downrange over the Atlantic Ocean and shed its first stage around two minutes after liftoff.
The Vega’s second and third stage Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9 motors ignited to continue the climb into ...