Ministers from the European Space Agency member states have agreed to develop a new small commercial satellite launcher called the Vega.

The booster will include the Italian/French-built Ariane 5 solid rocket booster, two Fiat Avio motors and a liquid propellant upper stage. The launcher is aimed at placing payloads of up to 1,000kg into a 700km low Earth orbit.

The ministers also agreed to the first stage of an Ariane 5 upgrade, involving improving the Vulcain first-stage engine to increase the launcher's capability to put payloads of up to 9,000kg into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) by 2003. Another upgrade, to 11,000kg to GTO, is planned by 2007.

A further project approved was the first step of the European component of a future Global Navigation Satellite System .

Source: Flight International