Vega lofts three French military intelligence satellites
(16 Nov 2021) Rocket: Vega; Payload: CERES (CapacitÉ de Renseignement Électromagnétique Spatiale) 1, 2 and 3; Date: 16 November 2021, 0927 UTC; Launch site: Kourou, French Guiana. The three military intelligence satellites were deployed into 672 km x 75.00 degrees circular orbits about 56 minutes into the mission.
CERES is designed to detect and geo-locate electromagnetic signals from radio communication systems and radars from areas where surface sensors cannot reach. From its low Earth orbit, CERES is free from airspace overflight constraints and can operate in all types of weather. The system will provide in-depth information to support military operations for the French Armed Forces, thus improving situational awareness.
The system includes the space segment consisting of a swarm of three identical satellites carrying the SIGINT payload, as well as the user and ground control segments.
Airbus Defence and Space and Thales are co-contractors for the full end-to-end system. Airbus is responsible for the global system integration and the space segment comprising the three satellites, while Thales is responsible for full mission chain and system performance, going from on-board payload to user ground segment. In addition, Thales Alenia Space acted as a subcontractor to Airbus in supplying the satellites' platforms. The French space agency, CNES, as assisting partner to the DGA, procured the launch services and the ground control segment.
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The performance requested for this launch was 1,548 kg. The three satellites totalled about 1,346 kg, with payload adaptors and carrying structures making up the rest.
Vega has been in operation at Europe's Spaceport since 13 February 2012. It has orbited a total of 111 satellites so far, on single, double and multiple payload missions to multiple orbits: polar and Sun-synchronous, elliptical and equatorial orbit.
The mission will be followed by Vega's successor, Vega-C, which will take its first flight in 2022. This starts the transition to Vega-C where for a period, both vehicles will be used.
ESA's Vega-C, developed and built by prime contractor Avio in Italy, will be able to perform more launches per year than Vega and offers 800 kg more payload capacity to multiple orbits.
Vega-C is more powerful than Vega and has a larger fairing but will keep the same launch cost as Vega. This is partly achieved through sharing the same P120C motor with Ariane 6 to reduce recurring costs and thus reduce the launch cost per kilogram. Vega-C will use a range of payload carriers for different shapes and sizes of payloads from 1 kg to 2,300 kg.
Reference: Arianespace PR, Airbus PR, ESA PR