Vega, Vega-C and Ariane 6 are set to offer low-cost, standardised launch services for small satellites under 500 kg, with a first opportunity next year.
Though small satellites are increasing their share of the space market with many valuable applications, the opportunities to reach space often fall short of meeting their mission needs.
ESA’s Light satellite Launch opportunities initiative is investigating possible low-cost launch services based on Ariane 6, Vega and Vega-C efficiently combining payloads in the same mission and offering a standardised service to customers.
The aim is to serve a wide variety of small satellites, from CubeSats to microsats and minisats, technology demonstrators to mega-constellations.
While services would initially serve European institutional needs, the broader long-term objective is to reach the commercial market.
A series of proof-of-concept flights will demonstrate that Europe can provide economically sustainable access to space for light satellite missions.
The first is a rideshare mission planned for early 2019 on Vega using the versatile Small Satellites Mission Service dispenser, designed to deploy multiple light satellites below 500 kg.
This will bring socio-economic benefits to Europe, particularly in the light satellite applications business, and optimise the Ariane 6 and Vega launch capacities managed by Arianespace at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Activities started on 16 February with the prime contractor Arianespace, and with Arianegroup and Avio for the Ariane 6 and Vega-C launcher systems, respectively.
For further information on ESA’s Light satellite Launch opportunities initiative including the relevant launch opportunities for smallsats, please contact Renato Lafranconi at ESA.