Vega, the Italian missile, still hampered by the wind: fourth postponement of the launch in less than two weeks with Eolo sending again across the dark (Italian) night to those who today, 29 June, had set the alarm clock trembling for this 16th mission so important, the first after the failure (in turn the first) in the formidable career of the rocket built by the Avio in Colleferro for theEuropean space agency with the coordination ofItalian space agency. Space, as astronauts always repeat, belongs to those who have more patience than courage. In the rocket’s ogive, the 53 satellites remain assembled and must be accompanied in different orbits: a record car sharing that is waiting to be written in verdebiancorosso in the history of world missiles.
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The stop to the countdown came from Arianespace, which manages launches from the European base, and once again it was the weather conditions that pushed the technicians to postpone the mission: at high altitude, as detected by the umpteenth probe balloon raised by the Jupiter control room, too strong winds that could have hindered the missile’s trajectory. Even today, Monday, everything was ready for the launch of the 16th mission: at the time scheduled for the launch, 3.51 in Italy, based on French Guiana in the Amazon jungle, where the clock is 5 hours behind Italy , showers alternated with light winds with weak wind (4 knots) and the usual, suffocating, tropical humidity of 98%. All normal on the ground, in short. Not so from 10 thousand meters above sea level, with winds from south south east deemed too strong to continue to give green light.
«The last briefing on the weather forecast allows us to start the final chronological operations» Arianespace had announced with an encouraging tweet relaunched also at the turn of Italian midnight and still an hour from the “go”. «We continue to monitor, as some uncertainties remain». Here, the uncertainties have again become certainties.
When will the next attempt be? Not very early, because in the meantime the weather forecast for the next few days is not good and furthermore, as Arianspace explains, numerous batteries of the complex components of the missile and perhaps also of the satellites will now have to be recharged. Without forgetting that some homage to the God of winds would not spoil.
It is clear that after the failure of the 15th mission, which blocked the record streak of the first 14 launches, we want to limit the risks that something could go wrong, in short, we are looking for the perfect weather situation: we just have to wait .
Hundreds hold their breath in the suffocating heat of the night in the Amazonian jungle of French Guiana that surrounds the Kourou spaceport from where the Italian Vega rocket will take off at 3.51 on Monday 28 June. And in the same way they hold their breath in thousands in the heat of Colleferro, 80 kilometers south of Rome, where the rocket was built in the science fiction plant of the Avio which represents the autonomous road, and moreover at very competitive prices, of the Italy to space.
Fingers crossed also to Leonardo, which is 28% owned by the company listed on the stock exchange and entrusted to the CEO. Giulio Ranzo. The fact is that Vega, which has roots in the last 80’s (Gianni Agnelli called it the 500 of the skies and is a huge compliment) and boasts the blessing of the Italian space pioneer Luigi Broglio, had got used to it well by putting a record after the other from 2012 onwards.
In rocket history no rocket had ever made the first 14 missions without a hitch, a mistake, a disaster. Instead Vega had been perfect 14 times out of 14. Not even a smudge: “nominal”, as the technicians say, from the first to the last second of all those missions, always started splashing in the clouds with unparalleled agility.
And his wallet, managed by Arianespace on behalf of the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, swelled with orders because without satellites we can no longer live and progress.
Last July, however, on the 15th mission, a second stage engine failure – as established by an independent commission – caused the launch to fail after two minutes from take-off: goodbye to the UAE Falcon Eye satellite, record goodbye – indeed a little mystical – of infallibility. What is striking, in these months in which the 800 technicians of Avio have turned every component of Vega like a sock, is that the confidence in the Italian launcher missile has not decreased, on the contrary, the orders are still flaked. Furthermore, there is a need to run towards the next more powerful versions (Vega C and Vega E) of the rocket whose first and current version is 30 meters high and is able to carry a payload of orbit, in multiple orbits, a ton and a half.
But imagine the tension in the whole Avio group in these hours preceding the launch, which was also postponed for three months due to the Coronavirus pandemic which also imposed two weeks of rigid quarantine in Kourou, supervised by the massive soldiers of the foreign legion because Guyana is an overseas territory, to the seventy specialists who left Colleferro last month.
And then it also put the wind at high altitude to gnaw another 10 days late. Yesterday, however, the countdown to Vega resumed, which will bring several 53 satellites into orbit for the first time, thus becoming “a tool in support of the new space economy,” said the president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Giorgio Saccoccia.
It is a revolution that promises to make space accessible to universities and small and medium-sized enterprises and to make that of mini satellites a new interesting market and “in which – said Saccoccia – Italy is ready to invest”.
There is a very long wait for this launch, initially scheduled for June 19, but so far always canceled by the high altitude winds that have forced Arianespace, the company that manages the launches to Kourou, three times.
However, the Ssms (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) system is ready to debut, a sort of dispenser that allows you to send a large number of small satellites into orbit at the same time, weighing between one and 500 kilograms.
Of the 13 countries that have entrusted their mini satellites to Vega, eight are European and Italy is among them. With Israel, our country brings the Argtm experiments into orbit, from the Federico II University of Naples, which will study the effects of microgravity on the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics; Mambo, from the University of Roma Tre, to evaluate the release of drugs into the body in microgravity conditions; Spacelys, of the University of Bologna, to evaluate the effects of microgravity on a protein linked to the immune system; Nogquad, from the University of Tor Vergata, for the study of gene expression and the appearance of diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or fragile X syndrome.
“Thanks to the ability to carry loads of different sizes, Vega is a launcher born with a remarkable gift of flexibility, but with the SMS system it can now increase the amount of satellites that can be launched on different orbits,” said Saccoccia. «Just when the demand for satellites to be delivered to space is changing, Vega becomes a tool to support the new space economy, a new opportunity».
An opportunity that Italy is ready to seize: “we have initiatives in which public and tried work together and we want to encourage more and more the development of small and nano satellites, which Vega – he continued – will fly, also in reference to high innovative content both nationally and ESA ». Italy, with its network of small and medium-sized enterprises, “is able to build small satellites” and is ready to participate in this change with “the whole chain, which goes from development to use. We want to promote – concluded the president of ASI – this new chapter of access to space “.
Last updated: 04:47
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