A Vega rocket (opens in new tab) is scheduled to launch a new Earth observation satellite and several other small payloads into orbit for a return-to-flight mission tonight (April 28), and you can watch it live online.
The European launch provider Arianespace (opens in new tab) is targeting a 9:50 p.m. EDT (0150 April 29 GMT) liftoff from the Guiana Spaceport near Kourou, French Guiana. You can watch the launch live here on Space.com (opens in new tab), courtesy of Arianespace, or directly via the company's YouTube (opens in new tab).
The mission, which Arianespace has dubbed VV18, will be the 18th Vega mission and the first one since a Vega launch failure in November (opens in new tab), in which satellites for France and Spain were lost.
Riding to orbit atop the Vega rocket will be an Earth observation satellite called Pléiades Neo 3, the first of four Earth observation satellites for a new satellite constellation built and operated by the German aerospace company Airbus Defence and Space. The second satellite, Pléiades Neo 4, is scheduled to launch in June, followed by Pléiades Neo 5 and Pléiades Neo 6 in 2022, which will complete the constellation.
"With 30 cm [12 inches] resolution, best-in-class geolocation accuracy and twice-a-day revisit, the four Pléiades Neo satellites unlock new possibilities with ultimate reactivity," Arianespace officials said in a mission description (opens in new tab).
Five secondary payloads will hitch a ride to orbit with Pléiades Neo 3. The rideshare payloads include the Norwegian Space Agency's NorSat-3 radar detector for maritime navigation, a nanosatellite called "Bravo" for Aurora Insight, two Lemur-2 weather and ship tracking satellites for Spire and Eutelsat's Tyvak-182A satellite (also known as Eutelsat ELO alpha).
Stakes are high for tonight's return-to-flight mission. Vega rockets have suffered two recent failures after a streak of 14 successful missions between 2012 and 2019. The first Vega failure happened in July 2019, when a motor issue (opens in new tab) led to the loss of the United Arab Emirates' Falcon Eye 1 satellite. Vega successfully returned to flight in September 2020, launching 53 satellites (opens in new tab) to orbit. Then the next launch after that ended in failure, just two months later.
Since the rocket's debut in 2012, Vega has launched a total of 17 missions, with 15 successes and two failures. The VV18 mission will be the 18th Vega launch and the first Vega launch of the year. It will be Arianespace's third launch of the year, following two OneWeb missions (opens in new tab) that launched on Soyuz rockets.
Email Hanneke Weitering at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.