Arianespace wins Vega contract for Italian imaging satellite constellation


WASHINGTON — In a vote of confidence for a troubled launch vehicle, Arianespace won a contract from the Italian government for up to three Vega C launches of an Earth observation constellation.

Arianespace announced March 14 it signed a contract with the European Space Agency, acting on behalf of the Italian government, for launching the IRIDE constellation of imaging satellites. The contract includes two firm Vega C launches, starting in late 2025, with an option for a third.

The IRIDE constellation, funded by the Italian government, will include 36 satellites built by a consortium of Italian companies that will be equipped with a range of imaging payloads, including optical and radar. The constellation is named after the Italian word for iris.

The value of the launch contract was not disclosed. The overall IRIDE system, including satellites, launch and ground systems, is estimated at 1.3 billion euros ($1.38 billion) and is funded by Italy’s National Plan for Recovery and Resilience, or PNRR, an initiative by the Italian government to help the country recover from the pandemic.

The announcement is the first contract for the Vega C announced since the completion of the investigation into the December 2022 launch failure on the vehicle’s second mission, destroying two Airbus imaging satellites. That investigation concluded that a carbon-carbon component of the nozzle of the rocket’s second stage solid-fuel motor degraded after ignition, causing a loss of thrust that doomed the rocket.

With this contract “ESA repays the trust of the Italian government while confirming its confidence in Arianespace and in the Vega C launch system,” said Simonetta Cheli, director of Earth observation at ESA, in a statement. ESA is supporting the Italian government on the development of IRIDE.

During a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference here March 15, Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, confirmed plans announced earlier… Source

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