Maiden flight for ESA's Vega rocket tonight

Contributed by
Feb 12, 2012
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[Update (February 13, 2012): The launch was a success! Congrats to the ESA for this achievement.]

The European Space Agency's new launch vehicle, Vega, has its first "qualification flight" scheduled for Monday morning: the launch window is from 10:00 to 12:00 UTC (05:00 to 07:00 Eastern US time). ESA has a page where you can watch the launch live.

Vega is a smaller rocket, designed to haul 300 - 2000 kg payloads to low Earth orbit. It's 30 meters tall by 3 meters wide (100 x 10 feet), so we're not talking huge here. But this is a size needed for smaller payloads that don't need huge thrust. This first launch will loft nine satellites in total: the AlMaSat demonstration satellite (30 cm on a side); another called LARES which is 390 kg in mass, designed to test an aspect of relativity called frame dragging (where a spinning object such as the Earth warps space by dragging it along with its spin, like a viscous fluid); and seven tiny satellites called picosats.

Given that this is the dead of night my time, I'll watch it in reruns, but if the timing is more amenable to you give it a look! It's not often you get to see the maiden voyage of a new rocket.