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Vega rocket sends MOHAMMED VI–A satellite to orbit on next-to-last Kourou flight of 2017

MOHAMMED VI–A mission. Launch of Vega rocket image credit Arianespace

Tonight’s launch of the MOHAMMED VI–A satellite occurred at the very opening of the launch window at 8:42 p.m. EST. Image Credit: Arianespace

Lighting the skies above the jungles of Kourou, French Guiana, an Arianespace Vega rocket lifted off from the Kourou Space Centre’s ELV at 10:42 p.m. GFT (8:42 p.m. EST) on November 7 (01:42 GMT on Nov. 8), 2017. The payload for this flight was the MOHAMMED VI–A satellite which Vega sent on its way to a Sun-synchronous orbit. The mission got underway without a hitch and was the next-to-last flight slated to take place out of Kourou before the close of the 2017 launch manifest.

Launch of the Vega flight VV11 with the MOHAMMED VI–A satellite

Vega flight VV11 liftoff. Photo Credit: J.M. Guillon / ESA / CNES / Arianespace

Resplendent in white and bathed in light, the Vega stands approximately 98 feet (30 meters) in height; the Vega is capable of lofting 661 to 5,512 pounds (300 to 2,500 kg) of science or Earth observation satellites to polar and low-Earth orbits.

The announcer noted how the mission had broken the sound barrier after about 30 seconds and that everything was going according to plan shortly thereafter.

The night’s mission got underway with the four-stage rocket lifting off the SLV pad a new launch site built at ELA-1 and designated Site de Lancement Vega. Vega’s first three stages carried out the powered initial phase of the flight which lasted for about six minutes and 35 seconds.

With this part of the flight complete, Vega’s third stage parted ways with the upper composite portion of the rocket. The upper composite portion of Vega incorporates the AVUM upper stage, a payload adapter as well as the MOHAMMED VI – A satellite itself.

With their role in the mission complete, Vega’s lower three stage fell back to Earth and the awaiting sea.

At this point in the flight, the AVUM upper stage ignited its engine, it fired for approximately seven minutes. Afterward, the flight entered into a ballistic phase which lasted for some 37 minutes. The AVUM stage then reignited for almost two minutes; this was followed shortly thereafter by the release of the MOHAMMED VI–A about a minute and a half after the AVUM engine shut down.

When all was said and done, some 55 minutes and 33 seconds had elapsed since the Vega launcher had left the pad at Kourou.

MOHAMMED VI–A is the result of a contract made by Morocco with Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space of France to provide a high-resolution optical reconnaissance system.

Vega gets its name from the star named Vega, the brightest in the constellation Lyra. The launch vehicle does not use strap-on boosters and is composed of three stages: a P80 first stage, Zefiro second stage, and a Zefiro 9 third stage. The upper module, dubbed AVUM, is liquid fueled and is used to send the rocket’s various payloads on the final leg of their journeys.

The term “Zefiro” can trace its etymology to the Latin Zephyrus from “the west wind” with the nomenclature following it referring to the tons of propellant used by that stage.

In terms of the European nations that produce the rocket, Italy leads the charge, providing some 65 percent of the rocket. They are followed by France at 13 percent and then by Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden.

The last mission that Arianespace has on its 2017 manifest is the planned December 12, 2017, launch of an Ariane 5 rocket with four Galileo-FOC (Full Operational Capability) navigation satellites which will join Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation. Galileo is a joint program between the European Space Agency and the European Union. Unlike American GPS and Russian GLONASS navigation systems, Galileo-FOC will be under the control of civilian organizations.

Video courtesy of Arianespace



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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