SSMS inaugural flight on Vega

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Multiple small satellites will be launched at once on the Vega VV16 mission from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This flight will demonstrate the modular SSMS dispenser resting on its upper stage intended to bring routine affordable launch opportunities for light satellites from 0.2 kg CubeSats up to 400 kg minisatellites.

Until now the smallest classes of satellites – all the way down to tiny CubeSats, built from 10 cm modular boxes – have typically ‘piggybacked’ to orbit. They have to make use of any spare capacity as a single large satellite is launched, meaning their overall launch opportunities are limited.

The new Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service switches this into a ‘rideshare’ model, with multiple small satellites being flown together, splitting the launch cost.

SAB Aeropsace in the Czech Republic and Bercella in Italy designed and manufactured this modular dispenser for ESA’s Vega prime contractor Avio. The component structures are made of very low-density aluminium ‘sandwich’ panels protected by carbon fibre reinforced polymer skins. This makes it very lightweight and rigid.

The SSMS comprises two main sections, the hexagonal lower section can hold six nanosatellites or up to a dozen CubeSat deployers while the upper section section is used for microsatellites, minisatellites and small satellites. The lower section can also be used independently, coupled with a larger satellite replacing the top section.

The hexagonal module, a central column, towers, a supporting platform and a set of standard satellite interface spacers are assembled to suit each mission and combination of satellites. For this flight, a configuration called Flexi-3 weighing just 330 kg is being used.

This demonstration flight aims to prove the technical and financial viability of the rideshare service. ESA has collaborated with the European Union, which has partly funded this mission within the Horizon 2020 programme. This is part of the Contribution Agreement between ESA and the EU on space technology activities signed on 16 April 2019.

The animation shows the separation of the ESAIL mission which is a joint ESA LuxSpace project to extend the monitoring of maritime traffic beyond existing land-based tracking of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) through the means of an array of microsatellites: SAT-AIS.

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