Rockets in the Rainforest – ESA deploys three new satellites from its spaceport in French Guiana

ESA Proba-V

Proba-V (artist rendition; courtesy ESA)

Earlier this week, on a rainy night at the European Spaceport located along the tropical coast of French Guiana, the Vega launch vehicle successfully rocketed into space and completed its mission of deploying three new satellites into orbit.

This was just the second deployment of Vega, representing a momentous occasion for both the European Space Agency and Arianespace – the company operating the launch – and marking another significant step forward in the commercial transition of launch operations.

Also celebrating the Vega launch were the teams behind the three satellites deployed during the mission. These include:

  • Proba-V. From the European Space Agency, Proba-V was the primary payload of the Vega mission. The “V” stands for vegetation, and the satellite is designed as a follow-on mission to the vegetation imagers included on the French Spot-4 and -5 satellites. Proba-V contains a moderate-resolution four-band multispectral instrument capable of mapping complete global vegetation cover once every two days.
  • VNREDSat-1A. Representing the first Earth observing satellite from Vietnam, this is a high-resolution five-band imager (four multispectral bands and one panchromatic) designed for monitoring and managing natural resources, assessing the impacts of climate change, and improving response to natural disasters.
  • ESTCube-1. This represents the very first satellite from Estonia. ESTCube-1 is a CubeSat built primarily by students at the University of Tartu. Its main scientific objective is to deploy and test an electric solar wind sail, a novel method of space propulsion.

You may ask why the European Spaceport, aka Guiana Space Center, is located in the equatorial rainforest of South America, which upon first consideration may seem like an unlikely location. The answer is that the Spaceport’s location has some significant advantages. First and foremost, its location near the equator makes the Spaceport ideal for launching satellites into geosynchronous orbit, and given the higher rotational speed of the planet near the equator, this also lends efficiency to the launch process (i.e., saving fuel and money). Second, the region is relatively unpopulated and not at risk from earthquakes or hurricanes, thereby significantly reducing risk from any unforeseen disasters. The European Spaceport also has a rich launch history extending back nearly 50 years. Originally established by France in 1964, the Spaceport has been used by the European Space Agency since its founding in 1975.

With all this talk lately about new satellites, it may also seem like space is starting to get crowded. It is! The issue isn’t necessarily all the new satellites being launched, but rather all the derelict space debris that remains in orbit. To address this issue, there has been significant international discussion lately to develop debris removal plans. While such an endeavor is certainly going to be costly and logistically difficult, space cleanup is a necessary step towards ensuring the integrity of current and future satellites.

But for now let’s celebrate the success of these latest satellite missions and make sure the data is put to good use.

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