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More than 40 satellite missions will be launched at once by Europe’s Vega launcher

on 31 July 2019

More than 40 satellite missions will be launched at once by Europe’s Vega launcher this autumn, thanks to the innovative modular “Lego-style” dispenser resting on its upper stage.
Up until now the smallest classes of satellites – all the way down to tiny CubeSats, built from 10 cm modular boxes – have typically piggybacked to orbit. They have to make use of any spare capacity as a single large satellite is launched, meaning their overall launch opportunities are limited.

“The new Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) switches this into a ride-share model, with multiple small satellites being flown together, splitting the launch cost through economy class tickets,” comments Giorgio Tumino, managing ESA’s Vega development programmes.

“Our development of this new SSMS dispenser – able to group together different satellites from 1 kg to 400 kg in mass – is a response to the market for these small- and micro-satellite missions, which has grown exponentially in recent years.”

The inaugural proof of concept flight of Vega’s SSMS dispenser will take place this September, with separate passengers: seven small satellites plus 35 CubeSats in all.

Giorgio adds: “Regular follow-on SSMS flights are planned for 2020 on, once the more powerful Vega-C launcher begins operations. This will offer an extra 700 kg of capacity and enlarged volume within a wider launcher fairing – at the same Vega launch cost as before – so we will be able to fly even more passengers per individual SSMS launch at significantly lower cost per kilo.”

The SSMS dispenser has been designed to be as market-responsive as possible, able to accommodate any combination of customers, from a main large satellite with smaller companions as piggyback to multiple smaller satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats.

This inaugural flight will deliver all its passengers to the same 550 km altitude Sun-synchronous orbit, remaining lined up with the Sun for optimal Earth observing conditions. However, in the future, Vega could deliver satellites to three separate orbits per SSMS flight.

Image credit: ESA