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ESA Completes Important Step Toward Vega Launcher 158

Sven-Erik writes "ESA is reporting that 'An important step forward has just been made in the development of ESA's Vega launcher. After several months' work at the Guiana Propellant Plant at Europe's Spaceport the inert casting of the main Vega motor has been successfully carried out.' The 30-meter tall Vega launcher will be capable of placing a 1.5 ton payload into polar orbit, and it is scheduled for its first launch in 2006 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, where the Ariane 1 launch facilities are being adapted for its use. It will be a perfect complement to ESA's large Ariane 5 and the medium-classed Soyuz."
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ESA Completes Important Step Toward Vega Launcher

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  • by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:42AM (#9301598) Journal
    Because it makes launching payloads between 300 and 2000 kg cheap, I guess. ( at least relatively speaking :-) )
  • Useless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:58AM (#9301633)
    Vega is a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) launcher. There isn't a commercial market for low earth orbit satellites. Commercial satellites want GEO (geosynchronous orbit). The US military is not going to outsource to ESA (they aren't Indian). So I dont see the point of Vega. If I was doing research and needed a LEO for taking pictures or whatever, I would go with the cheaper reliable Chinese launcher.

    ESO need to concentrate on improving Ariane 5 reliability and cost.

    Or yeah, and ESO needs to build the OWL!! This earth based telescope should be able to image some planets better than space probes that visited them up and saw them up close.
  • Re:Useless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Polkyb ( 732262 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:09AM (#9301668)

    I give you two quotes from TFA

    Costs are being kept to a minimum by using advanced low-cost technologies and by introducing an optimised synergy with existing production facilities used for Ariane launchers.


    Unlike most small launchers, Vega will be able to place multiple payloads into orbit.

    Seems to me like two damn good reasons to me. Another, being; If you were Europe, would you REALLY want the Chinese to launch your Top Secret military satelites...?

  • multiple payloads. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lingqi ( 577227 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:46AM (#9301760) Journal
    Chinese can lauch multiple satellites too, you know. However, once a rocket bites the dust, several satellites go with it instead of one.

    While indeed that no *small* chinese launchers can do this, there are really not such a big market for satellites small enough that several fit into a Vega.

    Can't argue with the military aspects, though. I don't think EU trusts the US pushing military satelites into space either these days...
  • by marsu_k ( 701360 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:46AM (#9301761)
    It seems every time a story gets submitted here about ESA and new technologies they're trying to develop, most of the comments are negative. Let's take a look at the discussion so far: "Useless" by AC (+4, insightful), "Is it any good?" (+3, interesting), "Why not fuel free?" (+3, interesting), "A step backward" (+3, informative)... see a pattern here?

    First of all, I really have a hard time believing that your random slashdotter would have sufficient knowledge to make any intelligent observations about the projects involved (posting as AC doesn't certainly help); furthermore, even if they would have (I've seen people claim working for NASA here), ESA press relases are (naturally) very thin on technical details. After all, you wouldn't want the whole world to know all of your research, right?

    OK, so there have been failed ESA projects (NASA/Russians have also failed more than once if I'm not mistaken), Beagle 2 being the latest (however it is often forgotten here that Mars Express was the real purpose of the mission). So yeah, they might be wasting my tax Euros. I wish they'd waste more! IMHO more research put into space programs ultimately helps everybody, it certainly isn't "useless".

  • You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that when falcon V costs 12 million USD and has a payload of 4200kg while vega costs 20 million USD and has a payload of 1500kg, the vega project does not make any sense.

    And everybody on or will agree that using solid propellant for a civilian launcher is just asking for trouble.

    21 rocket scientists [] from brazil would definitely agree with this. Unfortunately they can't because they are all dead!

  • by Polkyb ( 732262 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:42AM (#9301895)

    All fair points, but, I suspect the major reason that the EU want their own "fleet" of vehicles is just plainly and simply that they don't want to have to rely on another countries space program

    I can understand the mentality, in a way... If we screw up, then WE'VE screwed up.

  • Re:Is it any good? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mj_1903 ( 570130 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:50AM (#9301914)
    As all its stages are solid fuel (except the final stage), Vega doesn't need the hazards of complex machinery, fuelling, insulation and other things that can possibly make it fail or delay a launch.

    What I find interesting is that it is such a small vehicle. I imagine its going to push some g's on launch because its thrust to weight ratio is quite high. I haven't seen any numbers to support this theory though.
  • Re:A step backward (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ttsalo ( 126195 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:57AM (#9301937)
    here are a few launch prices: ... Falcon I ... Falcon V ...

    Those Falcon launchers sound impressive, but are completely unproven and it remains to be seen how they perform in reality and what the real cost is. Saying that something is "a step backward" from stuff that doesn't exist doesn't make much sense.

    On the other hand, vega is a decent ICBM with MIRV capability.

    Conspiracy theory time! I wonder what the throw weight is, say, halfway around the globe?


  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ebassi ( 591699 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:16AM (#9301971) Homepage

    In fact, there's a glut

    Where? Primarly in the US. I'm sorry, but I don't think EU would like to financially help Lockeed-Martin. Yes, there are some LEO/low-cost vectors actually developed in China, Brazil and India, but the same reasoning applies.

  • Re:Useless (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ebassi ( 591699 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:19AM (#9301976) Homepage

    Vega is a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) launcher. There isn't a commercial market for low earth orbit satellites.

    Yes, there is a market. Universities and small companies, for instance.

    I would go with the cheaper reliable Chinese launcher

    What part of "competition" you did not understand?

  • Re:Polar orbit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sven-Erik ( 177541 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:25AM (#9301992)

    Scientific satellites very often use polar orbits since it allows them to cover the whole of the earth surface.

    And if the US military hadn't been involved with NASA and space development throughout its history, I doubt there would be much, if any, NASA.

  • by Eccles ( 932 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @09:30AM (#9302536) Journal
    Could someone...enlighten us to some details of the 'vega launcher' and why its special ?

    If you had ever owned a Vega, [] you would understand why they want to launch any remaining ones into space...
  • Re:Economics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joggle ( 594025 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:23PM (#9305040) Homepage Journal
    The payloads would have to have similar orbits (or at least be placed in roughly the same plane). The extra fuel needed to put the various payloads in their own correct orbit quickly diminishes any cost savings by putting them on the same lower stage rocket.
  • by jfoust ( 9271 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:25PM (#9305059)

    Yes. Usually Rokot or Dnepr launches (old refurbished Russian ICBMs) are bought for small and cheap payloads, but they aren't exactly reliable...

    Actually, if you look at their launch records both the Rockot and the Dnepr are quite reliable. (Beware the dangers of small sample statistics, however.) Care to share your analysis regarding why these specific boosters are not reliable?

  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:55PM (#9307280)
    You're mistaking rational analysis for jingoism. you write:

    First of all, I really have a hard time believing that your random slashdotter would have sufficient knowledge to make any intelligent observations about the projects involved

    The reality is lots of slashdotters are in this business. This isn't about failure rates - this market is way oversaturated - nobody is making money off launches with this payload size. Launcher companies the world over grossly overestimated the size of this market (what with the spectacular failure of Iridium) and have a huge overcapacity glut.

    If there's a row of ten burger joints on my street and someone opens an eleventh, don't you think "why?" is a reasonable question to ask?

    So we'll have yet another government-subsidized launch vehicle soaking up dollars/euros that could go to support a rational commercial space business. Great. If there were something special about this rocket in terms of cost or performance, I guess I could understand, but Vega is "just another rocket" in a crowded field.

    By the way, as others have pointed out, Beagle 2 wasn't an ESA project.

  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:35PM (#9309509)
    My comments were in reference to the Vega project only. Also, I didn't mean to dwell on the Beagle 2/ESA point. I was just trying to say you can't consider it an ESA failure.

    But I disagree with your "competition can't hurt" point. When too many competitors enter a crowded market they all lose money. The problem with government-sponsored projects is they aren't allowed to fail, since they "create" jobs. So you end up with a situation where multiple countries are shelling out taxpayer money to outbid each other in an effort to amortize development costs.

    The long-term problem is this prevents a rational market from existing - investors will forever be reluctant to bet against government projects. So companies like Armadillo Aerospace and Starchaser have no chance to develop.

    Now, I can see a strategic rational for the EU to have this kind of capability. As others have pointed out, the rocket seems to be tailored for spy satellites. If that's the rationale, well, bully for you. But if it's just another job-creation scheme that will cost everybody, then I wish they hadn't done it.

    And note I'm critical of much of the US space program for the same reasons. If we could get some more attention to bottom-line costs, maybe we could afford those solar power satellites and other, truly useful projects.

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian