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ESA's first Vega rocket blasts off without a hitch

Europe's small-load launcher joins the big boys

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Europe's first Vega launcher blasted off in South America today in a successful qualification flight that signals the rocket is ready for use.

Vega lifted off at 10am from a new launch pad at the European Space Agency's site in Kourou, French Guiana. The "flawless" flight means the Vega will join ESA's Ariane 5 and Soyuz launchers to give the agency the ability to launch wee satellites as well as heavy and medium lift-offs.

"Vega’s light launch capacity accommodates a wide range of satellites - from 300kg to 2500kg - into a wide variety of orbits, from equatorial to Sun-synchronous. Its reference mission is 1500kg into a 700km-high circular Sun-synchronous orbit," the ESA said.

Vega has been in development since 2003, with Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland all contributing to the project.

"Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s director of launchers, in a canned statement.

“ESA, with the technical support of the Italian and French space agencies, and about 40 industrial companies coordinated by the prime contractor ELV SpA, have made this enormous challenge a reality in under a decade of development.” ®

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