The inert casting of the main solid-propellant motor for the European Space Agency's Vega small satellite launcher has been completed at Kourou, French Guiana - a milestone in its development.

Italy's Avio cast the Vega's P80 first-stage motor, the only new component being developed under the programme. The inert material has the same density and characteristics as the solid propellant.

The first casting of the P80's active propellant will take place in 2005, in preparation for the first firing tests at Kourou. The 10.5m-tall P80 holds 88t of propellant, providing 300t of thrust in the first 106.7s of flight.

The 30m-tall Vega will be able to place 1.5t payloads into polar orbit, complementing the heavyweight Ariane 5 and medium-class Russian Soyuz, which will fly from Kourou for the first time in 2007.

Source: Flight International