Vega, the Italian missile, was again ready to launch when the third stop in 10 days arrived due to the unfavorable weather situation. The countdown was suspended with the new attempt set at the same time, 3.51 am, on Monday 29 June.
At the time scheduled for launch on the Kourou spaceport, where the clock is 5 hours behind Italy, showers alternated with light winds with weak winds and the usual tropical humidity of 90%, but, as for the count downs In recent weeks, the high winds at high altitude have been worrying the Avio and Arianespace technicians, also detected through the launch of a probe balloon released in the last phase of the countdown.
It is clear that, after the failure of the 15th mission following the record of the success of the first 14 launches, we want to limit the risks that something can go wrong, in short, we are looking for the perfect weather situation: we just have to wait another 24 hours .
Hundreds hold their breath in the suffocating heat of the night in the Amazonian jungle of French Guiana that surrounds the Kourou spaceport from where the Italian Vega rocket will take off at 3.51 on Monday 28 June. And in the same way they hold their breath in thousands in the heat of Colleferro, 80 kilometers south of Rome, where the rocket was built in the science fiction plant of the Avio which represents the autonomous road, and moreover at very competitive prices, of the Italy to space.
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Fingers crossed also to Leonardo, which is 28% owned by the company listed on the stock exchange and entrusted to the CEO. Giulio Ranzo. The fact is that Vega, which has roots in the last 80’s (Gianni Agnelli called it the 500 of the skies and is a huge compliment) and boasts the blessing of the Italian space pioneer Luigi Broglio, had got used to it well by putting a record after the other from 2012 onwards.
In rocket history no rocket had ever made the first 14 missions without a hitch, a mistake, a disaster. Instead Vega had been perfect 14 times out of 14. Not even a smudge: “nominal”, as the technicians say, from the first to the last second of all those missions, always started splashing in the clouds with unparalleled agility.
And his wallet, managed by Arianespace on behalf of the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, swelled with orders because without satellites we can no longer live and progress.
Last July, however, on the 15th mission, a second stage engine failure – as established by an independent commission – caused the launch to fail after two minutes from take-off: goodbye to the UAE Falcon Eye satellite, record goodbye – indeed a little mystical – of infallibility. What is striking, in these months in which the 800 technicians of Avio have turned every component of Vega like a sock, is that the confidence in the Italian launcher missile has not decreased, on the contrary, the orders are still flaked. Furthermore, there is a need to run towards the next more powerful versions (Vega C and Vega E) of the rocket whose first and current version is 30 meters high and is able to carry a payload of orbit, in multiple orbits, a ton and a half.
But imagine the tension in the whole Avio group in these hours preceding the launch, which was also postponed for three months due to the Coronavirus pandemic which also imposed two weeks of rigid quarantine in Kourou, supervised by the massive soldiers of the foreign legion because Guyana is an overseas territory, to the seventy specialists who left Colleferro last month.
And then it also put the wind at high altitude to gnaw another 10 days late. Yesterday, however, the countdown to Vega resumed, which will bring several 53 satellites into orbit for the first time, thus becoming “a tool in support of the new space economy,” said the president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Giorgio Saccoccia.
It is a revolution that promises to make space accessible to universities and small and medium-sized enterprises and to make that of mini satellites a new interesting market and “in which – said Saccoccia – Italy is ready to invest”.
There is a very long wait for this launch, initially scheduled for June 19, but so far always canceled by the high altitude winds that have forced Arianespace, the company that manages the launches to Kourou, three times.
However, the Ssms (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) system is ready to debut, a sort of dispenser that allows you to send a large number of small satellites into orbit at the same time, weighing between one and 500 kilograms.
Of the 13 countries that have entrusted their mini satellites to Vega, eight are European and Italy is among them. With Israel, our country brings the Argtm experiments into orbit, from the Federico II University of Naples, which will study the effects of microgravity on the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics; Mambo, from the University of Roma Tre, to evaluate the release of drugs into the body in microgravity conditions; Spacelys, of the University of Bologna, to evaluate the effects of microgravity on a protein linked to the immune system; Nogquad, from the University of Tor Vergata, for the study of gene expression and the appearance of diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or fragile X syndrome.
“Thanks to the ability to carry loads of different sizes, Vega is a launcher born with a remarkable gift of flexibility, but with the SMS system it can now increase the amount of satellites that can be launched on different orbits,” said Saccoccia. «Just when the demand for satellites to be delivered to space is changing, Vega becomes a tool to support the new space economy, a new opportunity».
An opportunity that Italy is ready to seize: “we have initiatives in which public and tried work together and we want to encourage more and more the development of small and nano satellites, which Vega – he continued – will fly, also in reference to high innovative content both nationally and ESA ». Italy, with its network of small and medium-sized enterprises, “is able to build small satellites” and is ready to participate in this change with “the whole chain, which goes from development to use. We want to promote – concluded the president of ASI – this new chapter of access to space “.
Last updated: June 28, 5:01 am
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