ESA's new small launcher Vega, scheduled for its first launch at the end of 2005, will make its first journey into space from the former Ariane 1 launch pad, ELA1. A task force made up of members of ESA, CNES, Arianespace and ELV - a newly created joint venture of the Italian space agency ASI and Fiatavio - has agreed that ELA1 should be adapted for use by Vega.
In the past ELA1 was mainly used for the Ariane 1 launcher - the 'father' of the Ariane family - although the last launcher to lift off from there was an Ariane 3 launcher on 12 July 1989. The reason why ELA1 was chosen is that some of the existing infrastructure, such as the flame chutes, can be easily converted for Vega launchers and it already has a water tower and road links. This makes the cost of converting it for use by Vega cheaper and its operation more flexible when compared with other options. The task force also concluded that in view of the Ariane 5 developments planned for next year and 2005, the Ariane 5 launch pad ELA3 should remain dedicated to Ariane 5 launchers.
Once the launch pad had been decided upon, the next question was which operations centre should Vega use. This is an important decision as the operations centre is where all aspects of the launch are controlled and where the final launch countdown takes place. The task force considered that it would be too costly to bring the CDL1 facility used for Ariane 1, 2 and 3 back into service as the concrete structure would need to be reinforced to withstand the risk of an impact mass of 10 tonnes in case of a launch accident.
That meant that the choice fell on CDL3, the launch centre used by Ariane 5, as it had already been decided to close the CDL2 launch centre after the last Ariane 4 launch in 2003. CDL3 has many advantages, not only is it the most modern and up-to-date launch centre but as the Ariane 5 team use the same building the Vega team will be able to call upon them for operations support if and when necessary.