Europe's new lightweight Vega C rocket gets a big Earth observation opportunity

Artist's illustration of Europe's new Vega C rocket in flight.
Artist's illustration of Europe's new Vega C rocket in flight. (Image credit: ESA-J. Huart)

One of Europe's freshest rocket lines has a big Earth contract lined up.

Arianespace's Vega C rocket, which has a single launch under its belt from earlier this year, will be tasked to launch five Earth observation missions on behalf of the European Union (EU), the company announced Tuesday (Nov. 29).

The launches are in support of the massive Copernicus set of European satellites that peer at instances of climate change, land use, extreme weather and other crucial aspects of Earth observation.

"These launches will ensure that ... the Copernicus constellation is replenished and new observation capacities are put into orbit," Timo Pesonen, director-general of the EU's directorate general for defence, industry and space, said in a statement. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

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The 115-foot-tall (35 meters) Vega C launched seven satellites to space during its debut flight in July. Developed by the European Space Agency, the rocket can send 2.3 tons to polar orbit, compared to 1.5 tons for an earlier Vega version.

The launches are slated to fly between 2024 and 2026 from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. These five newly announced missions pushed the backlog of Vega-C launches to 13, Arianespace officials stated.

In Arianespace's words, the five scheduled launches include:

  • Sentinel-1D, which will be equipped with a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to provide all-weather ocean and land high-resolution multi-purpose observations. The launch is scheduled from the second half of 2024.
  • Sentinel-2C, which will provide high-resolution optical imagery for land services. The launch is scheduled for mid-2024. 
  • Sentinel- 3C, which will provide high-accuracy optical, radar and altimetry data for marine and land services. The launch is scheduled for 2024 or 2025.
  • Sentinel CO2M-A and CO2M-B, which will each carry a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by human activity. The satellite launches are scheduled for 2025 or 2026.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: