Europe is set to launch its new Vega rocket for the first time. This new rocket is a satellite launcher that is designed to carry multiple satellites into orbit and place them into precise orbital locations. The rocket is 30m tall and on its first flight will be carrying nine different satellites. The most interesting of the satellites looks like a metal disco ball with highly effective reflectors on its outer surface.
That satellite is designed for high-accuracy laser measurements to test aspects of Einstein's theory of general relativity. The spacecraft is set to launch at 10:00 GMT from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. The Vega rocket is also packed with sensors to monitor all aspects of its first flight, though sensors are important if the first flight happens to fail. The data will be used to determine what caused the failure so it can be addressed.
The rocket will be used to launch satellites that way less than 2.5 tons each. The rocket has four stages with the first three burning solid fuel and the fourth stage using a liquid fuel allowing the rocket to be stopped and started repeatedly to achieve precise orbital insertions. BBC reports that the failure rate for maiden launches of new rocket systems is 58%. In exchange for taking this big risk with the satellite payloads, all the organizations that have satellites on the rocket for the maiden flight are getting the ride for free.