Vega is an acronym that means — Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata (Italian), or Vecteur européen de génération avancée (French), or European Vector of Advanced Generation (English) meaning “Advanced generation European carrier rocket”. It is an expendable launch system in use by Arianespace jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Italy is the leading contributor to the Vega program (65%), followed by France (13%). Other participants include Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.

Aeolus lifts off on Vega
Aeolus lifts off on Vega Photo credits: European Space Agency

Small, versatile, and efficient — the Vega launch system is Europe’s way of launching light satellites to multiple orbits in a single launch. Unlike most small rockets, Vega is able to lift payloads ranging from a single satellite up to one main satellite plus additional small satellites and place them into separate orbits on a single mission.

Design

Vega is a single-body launcher (no strap-on boosters) with three solid rocket stages: the P80 first stage, the Zefiro 23 second stage, and the Zefiro 9 third stage. It is a 3 m-diameter vehicle, standing 30 m tall with a liftoff mass of 137 tonnes. It also has a liquid-propellant upper module for attitude and orbit control as well as satellite release.

Good to know: Zefiro is a family of solid-fuel rocket motors developed by Avio and used on the European Space Agency Vega rocket. The name Zefiro derives from the acronym ZEro FIrst stage ROcket,

Vega elements showing each stage, the Vespa adapter and fairing. Credits: European Space Agency
Vega elements showing each stage, the Vespa adapter and fairing. Credits: European Space Agency

The P80 is the first stage of VEGA, its name is derived from the design phase propellant weight of 80 tons that was later increased to 88 tons. The P80 includes a thrust vector control (TCV) system, developed and made in Belgium by SABCA, consisting of two electromechanical actuators that operate a movable nozzle with flexible joint using lithium ion batteries.

The propellant of all Zefiro models is HTPB 1912 with a nominal composition of 19% of aluminium powder, 69% of ammonium perchlorate with 12% of hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene binder. Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9A, where the number represent the intended propellant weight at design phase, are used respectively as second and third stage of Vega rockets.