Today the European Space Agency’s Vega launcher shot like a bolt into space. Vega is a small mission launcher made up of three solid rocket stages and a final liquid stage. It’s a modern machine: the final stage can be turned on and off several times to place satellites into precise orbits, and it can then de-orbit itself, cutting down the amount of junk cluttering space.
Vega is carrying nine satellites. The main mission is the Italian Space Agency’s LARES relativity satellite, a zero-gravity disco ball that can be used for precise laser ranging tests of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In particular, LARES will try and test the “Lense-Thirring” effect—one type of gravitational frame-dragging effect. The eight other smaller satellites come from across Europe. Everyone gets to ride for free, since the first flight is always risky.
With today’s launch, Vega will join the Ariane 5 and Russia’s Soyuz launcher as a regular at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Image credit: ESA