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Arianespace Successfully Places ESA’s LISA Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator Into Orbit

By Marc Boucher
Press Release
December 3, 2015
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Arianespace Successfully Places ESA’s LISA Pathfinder Technology Demonstrator Into Orbit
Liftoff of Vega VV06 carrying LISA Pathfinder on 3 December 2015 from Europe's Spaceport, French Guiana. Credit: ESA/Stephane Corvaja.
ESA/Stephane Corvaj

Arianespace has successfully launched the LISA Pathfinder technology demonstrator for the European Space Agency (ESA) with Vega light launcher. The company’s 11th launch of the year took place on December 3 at 1:04 am local time from the Guiana Space Center (CSG) in Kourou French Guiana.
This mission is the third for Vega in 2015. It is also the sixth and final launch in the development phase for Vega, which now starts its full-fledged commercial operations, under the responsibility of Arianespace.

LISA Pathfinder
Developed by ESA, the LISA Pathfinder technology demonstrator paves the way for future spaceborne gravitational wave observatories. Attempts to detect these waves from Earth have so far been unsuccessful. LISA Pathfinder is the first step toward observing them from space. Comprising a science module and a propulsion module, it is designed to test the innovative technologies needed to directly detect this phenomenon. After jettisoning its propulsion module, LISA Pathfinder will test its inertial reference sensors, high-precision laser interferometer, drag-free and attitude control system and micro-propulsion system.

Arianespace boosts space research and science
LISA Pathfinder is the 22nd science satellite launched by Arianespace using its family of Ariane, Soyuz and Vega vehicles. Serving the needs of space research and science, Arianespace has contributed to various key programs for the scientific community in recent years, including Rosetta, Gaia, Mars Express, Venus Express, Herschel and Planck.

Vega light launcher: a success in private and government markets
With this third successful launch of the year for Vega, and the last under ESA’s VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment) program, Arianespace has achieved its objective for the operational ramp-up of the light launcher. Vega’s next launch will be the first fully operational mission, within the scope of the batch of 10 Vega launchers that Arianespace purchased in October 2014 from ELV industrial (owned 70% by Avio and 30% by the Italian space agency).

All six missions of Vega to date have been successful. They demonstrated the operational potential and versatility of the latest addition to Europe’s launch vehicle family, including missions to Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit (Sentinel 2A), a ballistic trajectory mission (IXV reentry demonstrator) and insertion into transfer orbit for the L1 Lagrangian point (LISA Pathfinder).

Vega’s success in the Earth observation (EO) satellite launch market continues apace. This type of mission currently accounts for the entire order book: one-third for European governments, keen to acquire independent EO capabilities, and two-thirds for export customers, with strong demand from commercial companies such as Google and Skybox Imaging.

Shortly after the announcement that LISA Pathfinder had been injected into orbit, Arianespace Chairman and CEO Stéphane Israël said: “On behalf of Arianespace, I am delighted at the success of this sixth Vega launch, serving the science community and the European Space Agency. I would like to thank ESA, customer for this mission and operator with us for this last launch in the Vega development phase, for their ongoing trust. Congratulations to everyone at Airbus Defence & Space for building LISA Pathfinder as a highly innovative technology demonstrator, which will give us new insights into the universe. I would like to thank Vega prime contractor ELV and its shareholders, Avio and the Italian space agency ASI, for their decisive contribution to the success of the European space transport industry and its state-of-the-art technologies. With this third Vega launch of the year, we have risen to the challenge of successfully ramping up operations, even before the start of its full-fledged operational phase. On December 3, 2015, Vega’s year ends just as successfully for Arianespace and its customers as Ariane’s year ended just a few weeks ago, on November 10. And of course, thanks to our partners at CNES-CSG and all of the companies working at the launch base, who were by our side for this latest success. And finally, “bravo” to the Arianespace teams for this 11th mission of the year, marking another step closer to setting an operational record for our family of launchers, with 12 missions in 2015.”

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.