TIM FURNISS / LONDON
Italy has 65% of funding with six nations sharing the rest, but there are concerns about demand for the launcher
Contracts for development of the Vega small satellite launcher have been signed by the European Space Agency and CNES, the French space agency. ELV, a joint Italian Space Agency and FiatAvio organisation, has received €211 million (£228 million) to develop the launcher, while €40 million has been awarded to FiatAvio to develop the Vega's P80 solid-propellant stage.
Italy has a 65% share of the funding, while other programme participants are Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Belgium and France are involved with Italy in development of the P80. Vega will comprise the P80 first stage, Zefiro 23 second stage and Zefiro 9 third stage, with an upper liquid-propulsion module.
The Vega will be operated by Arianespace and launched from Kourou, French Guiana, offering a 1,500kg (3,300lb) to 700km (435 miles) orbit capability. The first qualification flight will be made in 2006, with an expected frequency of up to four launches a year. The P80 will also serve as a technology pathfinder for a future Ariane 5 solid rocket booster.
Vega was given the go-ahead in 1998 and funding approved in December 2000. There are concerns about demand for the Vega after the collapse of the mobile communications small-satellite market and continued doubts over the European Galileo navigation satellite system.