April 17, 2019

Assembly and launch facilities

Vega is operated from CNES’s Guiana Space Centre (CSG) near Kourou, French Guiana. The launcher stages and elements are handled separately after being shipped in containers, generally by two ships, the MN Toucan and MN Colibri, from the ports of Livorno and Rotterdam. The upper stages and adapters may also be shipped by freighter aircraft to Félix Eboué airport, from where they are trucked to the spaceport 75 km away in an oversize convoy. The Vega assembly and launch facilities are detailed below.

Stage preparation

  • UPG propellant facility (Usine de Propergol de Guyane, virtual tour): the P-80 first stage is shipped to Kourou from Colleferro without its solid propellant. It is then trucked to the UPG and filled with 88 tonnes of HTPB fuel by Regulus SA, a joint venture of Avio (60%) and ArianeGroup (40%).
The UPG covers an area of 300 hectares, with 40 buildings sharing the tasks of fabricating solid propellant and filling EAP solid-booster stages for Ariane 5 and P-80 stages for Vega.
The P-80 is then transferred to the BIP building (see below). The Z-23 and Z-9 stages are shipped from Europe to Guiana pre-filled with propellant, but without their pyrotechnic ignition systems.
  • BIP booster integration building (Bâtiment d’Intégration des Propulseurs, virtual tour): the P-80 is integrated in the BIP with its nozzle, pyrotechnic ignition system and the coupling structure on which it stands on the launch pad. The ignition systems are also added here to the Z-23 and Z-9 stages in preparation for final assembly. These operations are executed by Europropulsion, another Avio and ArianeGroup joint venture (50%-50%).
  • EPCU payload preparation facility: the AVUM upper composite is prepped here in two phases in the S5A and S5B wings (see below), then on the SLV launch pad inside the mobile gantry.

The P-80 first stage is rolled out from the BIP booster integration building to the Vega launch pad.
Credits: ESA-CNES-Arianespace/CSG photo and video department/P.Baudon

Payload preparation

The EPCU playload preparation facility (Ensemble de Préparation des Charges Utiles, virtual tour), also designated S5, is tasked with prepping satellites and fuelling them before mating under the fairing. The S5 building has three separate wings—S5A, S5B and S5C—with restricted access and clean-room conditions, each connected by transfer corridors:

  • S5A and S5B accommodate integration and fuelling operations for satellites, as well as for the AVUM upper stage, providing 300 sq.m and 400 sq.m of floor space respectively.
  • S5C has 700 sq.m for prepping 4 satellites at a time.

The payload is encapsulated inside the fairing in one of the HPF (Hazardous Processing Facility) areas of the S5A, S5B and S5C wings before roll-out to the pad.

The Aeolus satellite undergoes integration in the S5B building for Vega flight VV-12.
Crédits : CNES/ESA/Arianespace/Optique Vidéo CSG/S Martin, 2018

Launch campaign

  • Vega launch complex (ELV, virtual tour): built originally for the Europa 2 launcher, this complex was upgraded in the early 1970s to operate Ariane 1, then Ariane 2 and Ariane 3, and was for more than 20 years designated ELA-1 (for Ensemble de Lancement Ariane 1). It was retired from service in 1989, before work got underway in 2004 to refurbish and convert it for Vega. Lying 1.5 km from the Ariane 5 launch pad (ELA-3), the ELV complex comprises the launch pad and mobile gantry inside which the launcher undergoes final assembly in a vertical position. Standing 45 m tall and weighing 900 tonnes, the gantry is mounted on rails. It has 10 adjustable work platforms and front openings, and is rolled back 80 m to its parked position clear of the pad a little over 4 hours before launch.
  • The first step in the launch campaign consists in transferring the P-80 composite to the ELV gantry. After a series of tests, notably on the thrust vector control actuators, the Z-23 and Z-9 stages are transferred for integration and final vertical assembly, and then hoisted into position by the mobile gantry, which also provides the systems for filling the main and auxiliary tanks of the AVUM composite before its integration. The last step, after preparation and encapsulation under the fairing in the EPCU, consists in mating the payload atop the launcher stack.

The mobile gantry where Vega’s 4 stages are assembled vertically, in open configuration.
Credits: ESA/S. Corvaja

Launch and mission tracking

  • The CDL3 launch centre (virtual tour), less than 2 km from the pad, is where Arianespace and Avio keep track of the launch campaign from assembly through to lift-off. The site, which also houses the Ariane 5 control rooms, is shielded against debris in the event of an explosion and all its facilities are secure. The CDL-3 is in constant contact with the control centre during the launch sequence.
  • The control centre and its Jupiter 2 building (virtual tour) receive and centralize all the data on Vega’s systems and on its speed and trajectory during launch. Jupiter 2 is the nerve centre of the Guiana Space Centre (CSG).
  • Depending on Vega’s target orbit, downrange tracking and telemetry stations take over and relay telemetry received from the launcher to the CSG. The Galliot station in Kourou (virtual tour) on the southern peak of the Montagne des Pères is the first on the flight trajectory. For northward polar-orbit launches, tracking data and telemetry are relayed by the Saint Jean du Maroni (French Guiana), Cooper’s Island (Bermuda), Gatineau (Canada), New Norcia (Australia) and if needed Santa Maria (Azores, Portugal) and Aussaguel (France) stations. This station network is coordinated from the CSG.

Vega flight VV-06 ready for launch after rolling back the mobile gantry. Credits: ESA/Stephane Corvaja, 2015

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