On Thursday, September 29, the first components of the new Vega delivery system left Avio’s facility in Colleferro, Italy, where they were built. They were packaged neatly beforehand, as engineers prepared them for their long journey to South America.
These elements are bound for the Kourou Spaceport, which is operated by the European Space Agency in the French Guiana. All Vega pieces need to be delivered to this location as soon as possible, since the rocket's maiden flight is scheduled to take place less than 4 months from now.
The current shipment of components includes both the Zefiro-23 and Zefiro-9 motors, as well as the AVUM fourth stage of the rocket proper. Before departure, all these parts were subjected to rigorous testing and checks, in order to ensure they meet specifications.
After reaching Livorno Harbor via truck, the components were loaded onto the same vessel that is employed by Arianespace to carry components for its massive Ariane 5 delivery system. The vessel, called the MN Colibri, first set sail for the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.
Here, its cargo was complemented by the addition of the Dutch-built Interstage-1/2 structure and the LARES laser relativity satellite. The latter is constructed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The MN Colibri is scheduled to depart for Cayenne, French Guiana, tomorrow, October 6.
The rocket's P80 first stage is already in South America, undergoing final preparations in the Booster Integration Building at the ESA spaceport. These components will be mated in about 20 days.
Between October 13-14, experts at Kourou will be conducting a Flight Readiness Review, which is a critical milestone for the entire mission. If successful, then the three-month launch campaign will have officially begun.
“The first step will move the P80 stage to the pad for final testing of the thrust vector control system. The two solid-propellant second and third stages will then be added” ESA officials say in a press release
“The campaign will continue with the integration of the AVUM – Attitude & Vernier Upper Module – and its fueling, and further testing of the electrical systems and software controls,” the document adds.
“Finally, the upper composite, comprising the fairing and the payload, will be mated with AVUM. The payload for Vega's first launch is the LARES satellite, together with nine small CubeSats from European universities,” the release concludes.