Minimize Vega PoC flight for SSMS

Vega PoC flight for SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) rideshare mission

Aggregate definition process     PoC Industrial Organizations     Launch    Passenger payloads    Development status    References

The first European rideshare mission will be carried out by the Vega launch system in the timeframe of 2020. The Vega PoC (Proof of Concept) flight, using the SSMS (Small Satellite Mission Service) hardware, was conceived in the context of ESA's LLL (Light satellite, Low cost, Launch opportunities) Initiative. The flight goal is to demonstrate reached capability to aggregate, prepare, launch and deliver into orbit a set of lightsats; enabling timely, standardized and guaranteed access to space to the lightsat institutional and commercial user community by means of a dedicated and optimized European launch service. To reach this goal, design-to-cost approach has been applied to both development of launcher hardware and launch preparation processes. 1)

For preparation of the Vega PoC flight, the first step was to prepare a Announcement of Opportunity (AO) to collect feedback from the user community on the initiative and probe the lightsat market status to corroborate the forecasted launch demand on such spacecraft classes.

As a reference for the user community, the following lightsat classes were defined, in collaboration with Arianespace:

• Class 4 (including 1U, 3U, 6U): 1 – 25 kg; max size: 280 x 320 mm base, 420 mm height

• Class 3 (including 12U+): 25.1 – 60 kg; max size: 600 x 600 x 600 mm

• Class 2: 60.1 – 200 kg; size: from 600 x 660 mm base, 700 mm height to 800 x 800 mm base, 1200 mm height

• Class 1: 200.1 – 400 kg: size: 1700 mm base diameter, 1800 mm height, or inscribed squared base.

The Announcement of Opportunity was jointly issued by ESA and European Commission, in collaboration with Arianespace.

SSMS hardware development (Avio)

The SSMS hardware is consisting of a dispenser structure accommodating the PLs (Payloads) to be deployed, the related separation systems and avionics. The dispenser has been designed to be modular, allowing to interface small satellites in several configurations based on the same structural elements.

Basically the structure is made of sandwich panels with aluminum honeycomb core and CFRP skins. In addition to these composites parts, it is made up of an aluminum machined I/F ring towards the Vega launcher 1194 PL adapter and aluminum machined brackets.

With reference to the most complex configuration (i.e. “Flexy”), the mechanical structure can be divided in 4 main mechanical subsystems or modules (Figure 1) which are used depending upon the configuration chosen to embark the satellites:

1) Lower Module Assembly which comprises:

- Lower I/F ring

- Hexagonal Module Assembly

- Main Deck Assembly

- External Rod Assembly

2) Tower Module Assembly

3) Shear Webs Module Assembly

4) Separation System Spacers

The dispenser configuration for the SSMS Proof of Concept (PoC), that will be the first flight on VEGA, is the Flexi-3, shown in Figure 1.

Development of the SSMS carbon fiber dispenser was started by the European Space Agency in 2016.


Figure 1: Flexy-3 configuration for PoC (image credit: Avio, SSMS collaboration)

The dispenser is equipped with integrated harness and with Lightbands for payload separation.

Pre-development test campaign has been performed for critical manufacturing processes related to CFRP panels to validate suppliers. Tests at specimens level have been performed both considering laminates and sandwich with inserts taking into account the environmental conditions that the SSMS Dispenser shall withstand, specimens have been tested considering room temperature, vacuum environment and cycling test within the temperature range that will be experienced during orbital life.

In addition to the test campaign that will be performed at S/S level (Harness and Functional S/S) the SSMS PoC Dispenser (PFM1) will undergo to a complete qualification campaign at System level which includes:

• Mechanical tests: static load test, modal survey test, sinusoidal vibration test, acoustic test, fit check.

• Electrical tests: bonding, grounding, pin to pin verification, isolation, double retention test.

PoC Dispenser Development roadmap:

• PoC CDR-1 (focusing on panels design) has been completed;

• PoC CDR-2 (covering the entire dispenser design) will be completed by November 2018;

• PoC flight hardware (PFM1) manufacturing will start in July 2018 and will be completed by January 2019;

• PFM1 qualification test campaign will be performed in Q1 2019;

• PoC flight hardware (PFM1) will be available (after post-test-campaign refurbishment) for the Satellites integration campaign by the end of March 2019;

• PoC QR will be completed by mid-2019.

Aggregate definition process

The definition of the aggregate is a complex interconnected process, from both technical and programmatic stand points. The SSMS is a modular concept, allowing to interface small satellites in several configurations based on the same structural elements:

• Piggyback configuration


Figure 2: HEX1 configuration, based on one hexagonal module (image credit: SSMS collaboration)


Figure 3: HEX2 configuration based on two hexagonal modules (image credit: SSMS collaboration)

• Rideshare configurations (image credit: SSMS collaboration)


Figure 4: PLAT-1 configuration (image credit: SSMS collaboration)


Figure 5: PLAT-2 configuration (image credit: SSMS collaboration)


Figure 6: PLAT-3 configuration (image credit: SSMS collaboration)


Figure 7: FLEXI configuration (image credit: SSMS collaboration)

Defining a final aggregate implies to consider the constraints coming from the satellites themselves, but also those inherent to the SSMS and the Vega launcher (Figure 8).

The main technical steps during the aggregate definition process are:

1) Choice of the target orbit(s): Potential customers are grouped according to their desired target orbit. VEGA allows reaching up to three different orbits on a single mission. According to selected Users demand, the most appropriate orbits configuration is selected for the mission.

2) Check of the launcher performance: Based on Vega performance map, the maximum overall aggregate mass associated to the selected orbit(s) is defined as a target.

3) Definition of the aggregate layout: The overall dimensions and shape of the satellites drive their feasible positioning on the SSMS structure. The SSMS configuration chosen is the one which maximizes the overall S/C mass.

The S/Cs have to fit together on the selected SSMS configuration, with sufficient clearance between themselves and the structure in order to allow a safe separation. Detailed CAD analysis are performed in the context of Aggregate pre-feasibility analyses to assess this clearance.

From a programmatic point of view, the aggregate has to be “time-coherent”, that is:

• all satellites shall be ready to be launched on the same date foreseen by the Vega manifest

• the aggregate definition has to be frozen in time to procure the SSMS structure and the relevant LLIs (i.e.: raw matl’s).


Figure 8: Aggregate definition constraints (image credit: SSMS collaboration)

Application to PoC flight

The overall process described above was followed during the preparation of the PoC flight and confirmed the anticipated challenges. In particular, the SSMS configuration evolved during the process, from a FLEXI-4 to a FLEXI-3, due to changes in S/Cs aggregate during mission preparation activities.

Evolution of the S/C aggregate also implies potential change of the interfaces and the separation system required. A standardized concept is adopted on SSMS such that on PoC flight, this issue was addressed by selecting only one type of separation system (PSC’s Lightband), which comes in several different diameters is selected. From the aggregator perspective, it has the drawback of being a Long Lead Item. Potential adjustments of aggregate S/Cs leading to separation system diameter requirements from Users were addressed and an appropriate spare policy was put in place.


Figure 9: Illustration of the final aggregate (image credit: SSMS collaboration)

PoC Industrial Organization

This flight was made possible thanks to the key role played by the 4 VERTA 3 (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment 3) Program European participating States and by the European Commission (EC). 2)

The Launch System Prime AVIO is in charge of the development and qualification of the SSMS system and the definition and implementation of the processes to flight preparation; Arianespace in their role of European Launch Operator are in charge of the definition of the Spacecraft aggregate, the preliminary mission studies to confirm the feasibility of the PoC mission and they have the leadership of the coordination of AVIO activities towards the launch preparation. To this end, Arianespace defined the new role of European CubeSat aggregators for all the Customer Spacecrafts flown on PoC.

Among possible candidates, Arianespace selected D-Orbit and SAB Launch Services gave both the task to support Arianespace in the definition and implementation of the services offered to Institutional CubeSat Customers. SAB-LS took the task to carry out the CubeSat/deployers assemblies Launch Campaign operations with the SSMS, performed in Europe instead of at the Launch Base for the first time. D-Orbit has contributed to the campaign providing end-to-end premium launch services for some of the customers, as well as providing the ION CubeSat Carrier, a free-flying CubeSat deployer that will extend the level of launch services by fast dispersing and precisely deploying customers’ CubeSats.

The small satellite company ISIS (Innovative Solutions In Space BV) the Netherlands, is the CubeSat deployer provider for this mission. In addition ISIS provide a supplementary avionics module to the SSMS system. The so-called deployment sequencer module is the interface between the Vega upper stage and all the various CubeSat deployer types from multiple suppliers that are manifested on board the SSMS mission. On CubeSats RTAFSAT-1, DIDO-3 and SIMBA, ISIS is either platform provider or had responsibility for delivering the satellite as a turn key mission. Tyvak is 6U platform provider for FSSCAT satellites and is in charge of preparation of the spacecrafts with the NLAS 6U deployers.

SSMS PoC Aggregate

The spacecraft selected for composition of the PoC Aggregate are reported. Among them, the Institutional Payloads pre-selected by ESA following a joint EC/ESA Announcement of Opportunity are: UPMSat-2, ESAIL, NEMO-HD, FSSCAT, SIMBA, PICASSO, TRISAT, TTU100. The commercial customers reported in the following were selected by Arianespace.

ION (InOrbit NOW)

The ION CubeSat Carrier is the innovative platform developed and operated by D-Orbit SpA, its mission will focus on two main targets: the deployment of several CubeSats, some of them provided by Planet and to perform in orbit demonstration of its new propulsion system in view of its employment onboard subsequent ION missions.

UPMSat-2 (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid Satellite-2)

UPMSat-2 is an educational, scientific and in-orbit technological demonstration satellite. Its first goal is to give Technical University of Madrid – Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) students the competences for designing, building, testing, integrating, and operating a small satellite, but whose execution involves all the complexity of a complete space system. The satellite and the different subsystems correspond to dedicated designs, far from standards like the CubeSat. The platform has a volume of 0.5 x 0.5 x 0,6 m3, of which about 40% are available for payloads, and a total mass of about 45 kg.

The objective of UPM is to take full advantage of the development and operation of a microsatellite oriented to in orbit demonstration purposes, considering the multi-role these projects play within the University (educational, research, industrial spin-off, international cooperation, etc.).


Figure 10: Photo of the UPMSat-2 (image credit: UPM)

Launch: On 1 July 2020, Arianespace postponed the Vega launch of the VV16/SSMS rideshare mission to August 17, 2020 from Kourou, Guiana Space Centre, French Guiana. 3)

Due to the persistence of exceptionally unfavorable winds at altitude over the Guiana Space Center, Vega Flight VV16 – originally scheduled for June 18, 2020 – was repeatedly postponed, despite full availability the launcher and the 53 satellites on this Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) mission.

With no improvement in the weather situation expected during the short term, Arianespace has decided to postpone Flight VV16 until August 17, 2020, when the forecast is expected to be more favorable based on modeling of the winds. The interim period will be used to recharge batteries of the launcher and the satellites, under all the required safety conditions. — Despite this delay, Arianespace is maintaining the target of performing three Vega launches during 2020.

In the exceptional context of the COVID-19 crisis, Arianespace was prepared to launch the Flight VV16 mission as soon as possible after the interruption of launch campaigns at the Guiana Space Center, which was caused by the epidemic. The mobilization of Arianespace and its partners, in particular Avio (industrial prime contractor for the Vega launcher), the French CNES space agency and the European Space Agency, made it possible to envisage this launch as of June 18, 2020. Unfortunately, due to exceptionally unfavorable winds at altitude for this time of year, the launch was rescheduled several times through Sunday, June 28.

The time that is now available will be used to restore the readiness of the launcher and the SSMS mission’s 53 satellites in the context of operations carried out with batteries on the launcher in the Vega Launch Zone; and with batteries on the satellites, conducted in the launch site’s payload preparation facilities.

Target orbit for the 7 microsatellites: Sun-synchronous orbit, altitude at separation of 515 km, inclination =97.45º.

Target orbit for the 46 nanosatellites: Sun-synchronous orbit, altitude at separation of 530 km, inclination =97.51º.

The nominal duration of the mission (from liftoff to separation of the 53 satellites) is 1 hour, 44 minutes and 56 seconds.

For Flight VV16, the Vega launcher will carry seven microsatellites (from 15 kg to 150 kg) on the upper portion, along with 46 smaller CubeSats on the lower portion’s Hexamodule. 4)

The Vega rideshare mission is the first flight of the SSMS platform, designed to accommodate dozens of microsatellites and CubeSats on a single launch.

Figure 11: SSMS inaugural flight on Vega (video credit: ESA) 5)

Orbit: Sun-synchronous orbit; target orbit for the 7 microsatellites: altitude of 515 km, inclination of 97.45º; target orbit for the 46 nanosatellites: altitude of 530 km, inclination = 97.51º. The nominal mission duration (from liftoff to separation of the 53 satellites) is: 1 hour, 44minutes and56seconds.


Figure 12: Mission profile (image credit: Arianespace)

Passenger payloads of the Vega rideshare mission

• ESAIL is a maritime microsatellite with a mass of 112 kg for AIS (Automatic Identification System) ship tracking operated by exactEarth. Is was built by a European manufacturing team led by the satellite prime contractor Luxspace. ESAIL features an enhanced multiple antenna-receiver configuration for global detection of AIS messages and high-resolution spectrum capture, which will enable the demonstration of advanced future services such as VDES (VHF Data Exchange System) message reception.

• Lemur-2, eight 3 CubeSats built by Spire Global Inc., San Francisco, CA . These satellites carry two payloads for meteorology and ship traffic tracking. The payloads are: STRATOS GPS radio occultation payload and the SENSE AIS payload.

• Trisat is a 3U CubeSat (5 kg) imaging mission led by the University of Maribor, Slovenia. The mission is focused on remote sensing by incorporating a miniaturized multispectral optical payload as the primary instrument, providing affordable multispectral Earth observation in up to 20 non-overlapping bands in NIR-SWIR (Near to Short Wave Infrared) spectrum.

• The launch integrator company Spaceflight Inc. of Seattle WA is providing its services for four different customers with a total of 28 satellites. These are (Ref. 13):

a) NewSat-6 (also written as ÑuSat-6), is a low Earth orbit commercial remote sensing microsatellite (43.5 kg) designed and manufactured by Satellogic S.A. with HQs in Argentina, a vertically integrated geospatial analytics company that is building the first Earth observation platform with the ability to remap the entire planet at both high-frequency and high-resolution. This is Satellogic’s 11th spacecraft in orbit, equipped with multispectral and hyperspectral imaging capabilities and it will be added to the company’s growing satellite constellation.

b) 14 Flock-4v, 3U CubeSats, next-generation SuperDove satellites of Planet Inc., San Francisco, they will join its constellation of 150 Earth-imaging spacecraft.

c) 12 (.25U) picosatellites of Swarm Technologies’ which provide affordable global connectivity.

d) An undisclosed microsatellite, developed by Maxar with a mass of 138 kg.

• Planet Inc. of San Francisco launches a total of 26 Flock 4v SuperDoves on this mission. They will be split into two batches on the same launch: 14 of them will be housed inside and deployed from ISL’s QuadPack deployers and the remaining 12 will be deployed from D-Orbit’s InOrbit Now (ION) freeflying deployment platform. 6)

• Athena, a communications minisatellite mission (150 kg) of PointView Tech LLC, a subsidiary of Facebook. The objective is to provide broadband access (internet connectivity) to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world.

• AMICalSat, a 2U CubeSat, an educational mission, developed by CSUG (University of Grenoble Alpes, France) and MSU-SINP (Lomonosov Moscow State University-Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics, Russia). The objective is to take pictures of the Northern light in order to reconstruct the particle precipitation into the polar atmosphere. The payload is a very compact, ultra-sensitive wide filed imager (f=23mm, aperture f/1.4). Firstly, AMICal Sat will observe auroras using nadir pointing, i.e. by determining the centre of the Earth to map and link the geographical position of the auroral oval and its internal structures with solar activity. Secondly, the cubesat will perform image capture ‘in limbo’ through tangential orientation with the Earth to capture the vertical profile of the auroras and match an altitude to their various emissions.

• PICASSO, a 3U CubeSat mission (mass of 3.8 kg) developed for ESA ( European Space Agency) led by BISA (Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy), in collaboration with VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd, Clyde Space Ltd. (UK) and the CSL (Centre Spatial de Liège), Belgium. The goal is to develop and operate a scientific 3U CubeSat.

• GHGSat-C1 of GHGSat Inc., Montreal, Canada, is the first of two microsatellites (~16 kg) as the commercial follow-on to the GHGSat-D (CLAIRE) demonstration satellite developed and launched by UTIAS/SFL of Toronto in 2016. GHGSat monitors industries greenhouse gas (GHG) and air quality gas (AQG) emissions, including: oil & gas, power generation, mining, pulp & paper, pipelines (natural gas), landfill, chemicals, metals & aluminum, cement, agriculture, and transportation.

• NEMO-HD of SPACE-SI (Slovenian Center of Excellence for Space Sciences and Technologies) is a microsatellite (65 kg) developed at UTIAS/SFL of Toronto, Canada in cooperation with SPACE-SI. The NEMO-HD (Next-generation Earth Monitoring and Observation-High Definition) satellite is a high precision interactive remote sensing mission for acquiring multispectral images and real time HD video.

• FSSCat (Federated Satellite Systems on Cat) is the winner of the 2017 Copernicus Master “ESA Sentinel Small Satellite Challenge (S3)”. Proposed by the Universitat Politèctica de Catalunya (UPC) and developed by a consortium composed of UPC (ES), Deimos Engenharia (PT), Golbriak Space (EE), COSINE (NL) and Tyvak International (IT).

• Phi-Sat-1 (Φ-1) is the first on-board ESA initiative on Artificial Intelligence (AI) promoted by the Φ Department of the Earth Observation Directorate and implemented as an enhancement of the FSSCat mission. Among mission objectives, scientific goals are Polar Ice and Snow monitoring, soil moisture monitoring, terrain classification and terrain change detection (i.e. hazard detection and monitoring, water quality), while technological goals are optical Inter-Satellite Link (OISL) demonstration.

• The RTAFSAT-1 (Royal Thai Air Force Satellite-1) mission, also referred to as NAPA-1, is a 6U CubeSat, the first remote sensing CubeSat mission for Thailand. The satellite will carry out an Earth Observation Demonstration mission with SCS Gecko Camera and Simera TriScape-100 payloads; the designed lifetime is 3 years.

• DIDO-3, a commercial 3U CubeSat mission of SpacePharma. The objective is to gather data by researching the effects of a microgravity environment on biological materials. SpacePharma from Israel will be is on board of SSMS POC with DIDO-3 Nanosatellite to perform biological experiment under Microgravity for several customers involved in pharmaceutical business, supported by Italian Space Agency (ASI) and Israeli Space Agency (ISA). Dido-3 will be monitored from the Ground Station developed by SpacePharma in Switzerland.

• SIMBA (Sun-Earth Imbalance), a 3U CubeSat mission led by the Royal Meteorological Institute Belgium, The objective is to measure the TSI (Total Solar Irradiance) and Earth Radiation Budget climate variables with a miniaturized radiometer instrument. This mission will help in the study of the global warming. This science mission will have a design lifetime of 3 years and the satellite performances will be monitored from ground station located in The Netherlands.

• TARS-1, a 6U CubeSat of Kepler Communications, developed at AAC Clyde Space for IoT (Internet of Things) applications. TARS-1 features deployable solar arrays, software defined radios (SDR), a narrowband communications payload and high gain antennas.

• OSM-1 Cicero, the first nanosatellite developed in Monaco by OSM (Orbital Solutions Monaco engineers, a 6U CubeSat with a mass of ~10 kg) based on the Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems design. OSM plans to build nanosatellites to gather environment and climate data.

• TTU100, a 1U CubeSat developed at the Tallin University of Technology, Estonia. The objective is to test earth observation cameras and high-speed X-band communications. It will perform remote sensing in the visible and IR electromagnetic spectrum.

• UPMSat-2 (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid Satellite-2), a microsatellite (45 kg) of UPM as described above.

Development status of SSMS PoC flight and booking of rideshare missions

• June 15, 2020: Standing tall at the Spaceport in French Guiana, Vega has received its payload of 53 small satellites and is now undergoing final preparations for Arianespace’s June 18 maiden ride-share mission with the light-lift launcher. 7)

- During integration activity at the Spaceport’s SLV Launch Complex, the Vega was “topped off” with its upper composite, consisting of a new-design rideshare dispenser system carrying 46 small CubeSats and seven microsatellites weighing 15 to 150 kg — all of which are encapsulated in the launcher’s protective payload fairing.


Figure 13: The payload integration process for Flight VV16 is shown at the Spaceport, beginning with Vega’s upper composite being transferred to the SLV Launch Complex (photo at left). It was then hoisted up the launch site’s mobile gantry for installation atop the launcher (photos center, and right), image credit: Arianespace

• June 12, 2020: Europe’s next Vega launch will premiere a new dispenser called the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, or SSMS. It will transport more than 50 satellites at once into orbit on the first rideshare mission dedicated to light satellites. Liftoff from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is set for next week. 8)


Figure 14: Artist's view of Vega VV16 with the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) dispenser and SAT-AIS. Visible are the Zefiro-9 upper stage, the Attitude Vernier Upper Module (AVUM) and the SSMS dispenser with its payload of satellites (image credit: ESA, J. Huart)

- The SSMS is Europe’s response to the call for affordable and timely launches for small satellites. Until now these customers have relied on spare capacity riding ‘piggyback’ alongside a primary satellite but spaces are limited and finding a match with mission requirements is difficult.

- “This flight heralds a new era in rideshare opportunities for small satellites and shows our commitment to extending Europe’s access to space capabilities to serve European institutions, strengthen our space industry and grow our economy,” commented Renato Lafranconi, Vega Exploitation Program Manager at ESA. “New customers are keen to take their place on our next rideshare. This gives us a lot of confidence that this new service will become a vital element of the Vega launch service.”

- Maximizing the number of satellites on each Vega launch lowers the cost per ridesharing customer. The SSMS can be used for a dedicated rideshare or to fit clusters of small satellites on the launch of a large satellite.

- “This SSMS dispenser makes effective use of every available space thanks to a modular design approach. The lower section is hexagonal and can hold six nanosatellites or up to a dozen CubeSat deployers. The upper 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, we are using a configuration called Flexi-3, weighing just 330 kg,” explained Giorgio Tumino, managing ESA’s Vega and Space Rider development programs.


Figure 15: Satellites being integrated onto the SSMS payload dispenser (image credit: ESA, M. Pedoussaut)

- SAB Aerospace 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 aluminum ‘sandwich’ panels protected by carbon-fiber reinforced polymer skins. This makes it very lightweight and rigid.


Figure 16: SSMS modular parts. The SSMS dispenser has been designed to be as market-responsive as possible, able to accommodate any combination of customers, from a main large satellite with smaller companions as piggy back to multiple smaller satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats. Basically the SSMS is composed of different modular parts, which can be put together as needed, Lego-style: a central column, tower or hexagon, a supporting platform, adjustable rods and dividers (image credit: ESA)

- The SSMS can accommodate any combination of 0.2 kg CubeSats up to 500 kg minisatellites, from a main large satellite with smaller companions, to multiple small satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats.

- Among the eight European states represented in the flight aggregate were four ESA payloads – the 100 kg ESAIL microsatellite and three CubeSats: SIMBA, Picasso and FSSCat which carries pioneering technology named Φ-Sat-1. Watch an animation of the launch of Vega and the release of ESAIL.

- When Vega flight VV16 reaches space, the satellite payloads will be progressively released from the SSMS dispenser in a coordinated sequence at a Sun-synchronous orbit, about 500 km above Earth.

- Then, Vega’s Attitude Vernier Upper Module (AVUM) upper stage will reignite its thrusters one last time to start its descent with the SSMS towards Earth to burn up on atmospheric reentry to avoid becoming space debris.

• June 1, 2020: The launch campaign has resumed for Arianespace’s next mission, which will be the proof-of-concept flight with the Vega launcher’s “ride-share” configuration – known as the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS). 9)

- Scheduled for the middle of this month from the Spaceport in French Guiana, it will loft 53 micro- and nanosatellites for the benefit of 21 customers, deploying these payloads into Sun-Synchronous orbit.

- For the mission, designated Flight VV16 in Arianespace’s launcher family numbering system, Vega will carry seven microsatellites with masses from 15 kg to 150 kg, along with 46 smaller CubeSats. These spacecraft are to serve various applications, including Earth observation, telecommunications, science, technology and education.

The maiden flight for Europe’s SSMS

- The SSMS program, initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA) with the European Commission’s contribution, will boost Arianespace’s ability to offer ride-share solutions tailored for the flourishing small satellite market.

- Avio, the Italian company that is production prime contractor for Vega launch vehicles, also developed the SSMS ride-share concept. Design authority for the multipayload dispenser system is SAB Aerospace s.r.o. of the Czech Republic.

- The SSMS dispenser is composed of modular components that are assembled as needed to serve as the interface with grouped payloads composed of microsatellites and CubeSats. Capable of accepting a full range of payload combinations, the SSMS configuration has been designed to be as responsive as possible in meeting the launch service market’s needs for both institutional and commercial customers.

Launch team members arrive from Europe

- Assembly of Flight VV16’s light-lift Vega launcher was performed during February on the Spaceport’s SLV launch pad, but was followed in mid-March by an operations stand-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to fully implement sanitary protective measures.

- With the decision to restart operational activities at the Spaceport, a team of some 70 people – led by engineers and technicians from Avio, and including personnel from other companies – was flown aboard a chartered jetliner from Europe to French Guiana.

- After arriving at Félix Eboué Airport near the capital city of Cayenne, the team members underwent a quarantine period before being authorized to work at the launch site.

- “We are delighted to have resumed operations,” said Thierry Wilmart, who heads the Missions & Customers Department at Arianespace. “Protective measures relating to COVID-19 have been taken throughout the launch site’s facilities, and mission personnel have received instructions on respecting the sanitary guidelines.”

- Wilmart noted that among the first activities was an evaluation of using smart glasses during payload preparation activities with several of the spacecraft passengers on Flight VV16. “The results are very positive, and this efficient means of being connected enables customers to remotely monitor operations conducted by Arianespace personnel on their satellites.”


Figure 17: The Vega launcher for Arianespace Flight VV16 is shown taking shape during integration activity at the Spaceport in February. This photo sequence shows the solid propellant stages being “stacked” at the Vega Launch Complex (SLV), with the Zefiro 23 second stage’s integration on the P80 first stage (at left), followed by installation of the Zefiro 9 third stage atop them (center). In the photo at right, Vega receives its liquid-propellant AVUM (Attitude and Vernier Upper Module), image credit: Arianespace

• May 13, 2020: A pair of important arrivals this week – one by air, the other by sea – marked an acceleration of preparations at Europe’s Spaceport for Arianespace’s next two missions, to be performed from French Guiana with its lightweight Vega and heavy-lift Ariane 5 launch vehicles. 10)

- These parallel arrivals involved personnel who will conduct the first Vega “rideshare” mission, scheduled for mid-June to orbit 53 small satellite payloads; and Ariane 5 launch vehicle components for a three-passenger flight planned for liftoff this summer.

- Team members for the Vega launch campaign were flown in aboard a chartered airliner that touched down at Félix Eboué Airport near the French Guiana capital city of Cayenne. They will be responsible for preparing this mission’s liftoff from the Vega Launch Complex (ZLV), located on the Kourou side of the Spaceport.

- As the personnel were settling in, main launcher components for the Ariane 5 flight were being unloaded from the MN Toucan, one of two roll-on/roll-off sea-going ships operated for Arianespace, which docked at Paricabo Port near Kourou. After unloading, the components were to be taken by road to the Ariane 5’s ELA-3 launch complex – also situated on the Spaceport’s Kourou side.

- Launch activities in French Guiana had been suspended mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and were gradually resumed – carried out in strict compliance with health rules published by the Prefect of French Guiana, as well as the French CNES space agency and the Guiana Space Center.

Vega proof-of-concept flight for SSMS

- Designated Flight VV16 in Arianespace’s numbering system, Vega’s mission will be the first of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) – a program initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2016, with the contribution of the European Commission. For all the European partners involved, its purpose is to perfectly address the burgeoning microsatellite market for institutional and commercial customers alike.

- The modular SSMS dispenser was designed to be as market-responsive as possible, able to accommodate a wide combination of payloads – from a main large satellite with smaller companions to multiple smaller satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats.

- Flight VV16 will be Arianespace’s fifth launch overall in 2020, and its first this year using the lightweight Vega member of its launch vehicle family – which also includes the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and medium-lift Soyuz.

- The satellite passengers on Flight VV16 will be deployed by Vega to Sun-synchronous orbits. They will serve different types of applications, such as Earth observation, telecommunications, science and technology/education.

Following the measures presented by the French government on April 28 as part of the gradual resumption of activity planned from May 11, and the announcement of a restart of operational activities at the Guiana Space Center, Arianespace confirms its following launch objectives:

• Flight VV16/SSMS – The first “rideshare” Vega launch, carrying approximately 50 small satellites, in mid-June;

• Flight VA253 – A dual-payload Ariane 5 mission for two customers, Intelsat and B-SAT, at the end of July

All of these campaigns will be carried out in strict compliance with the health rules published by the Prefect of French Guiana, as well as the French CNES space agency and the Guiana Space Center. The objective is to preserve the health of launch site workers and those who are deployed to the space center, as well as the local population – all while ensuring the security and safety conditions required for preparation of the planned launches.

After the suspension of launch campaigns that was imposed on March 16, standby measures and security controls for launch vehicles and satellite payloads were handled by the teams of Arianespace, CNES and all the companies involved in the Guiana Space Center, and carried out in accordance with standard procedures.

The launch campaigns for two Soyuz missions – Flights VS24 and VS25 – will resume this summer.

As of April 21, the measures to maintain the launch site in an operational configuration have been carried out with local teams based in French Guiana, applying social distancing measures.

Table 1: Statement of Arianespace regarding launch delays due to COVID-19 and resumption of launches in June 2020 11)

• March 13, 2020: The head of Italian rocket-maker Avio said Thursday that preparations are proceeding without interruption for the launch of a Vega rocket later this month in French Guiana, but officials have adjusted work schedules at the company’s Vega manufacturing plant near Rome in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 12)

- Teams are preparing the Vega rocket for its first flight since a launch failure last July that destroyed a military reconnaissance satellite for the United Arab Emirates. It was the first failure of a Vega rocket in 15 flights since it debuted in 2012.

- The Vega launcher, primarily built in Italy by Avio, is scheduled for liftoff at 9:51 p.m. EDT on March 23 (0151 GMT on March 24) from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America.

- Giulio Ranzo, Avio’s chief executive, said in a phone interview Thursday that preparations for the launch March 23 are continuing on schedule in French Guiana. Ground teams needed to ready the Vega rocket for flight are in place at French-run space base.

- Governments around the world have introduced travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s not clear how limits on travel may change in the coming weeks. Italy has been the hardest-hit country in Europe by the COVID-19 viral disease, and the Italian government has locked down travel into and out of the country.

- French health officials have reported five confirmed COVID-19 cases. Last week, spaceport officials there said the space center’s museum, public tours and public viewing sites for upcoming launches would be closed until further notice.

- The four-stage Vega rocket has been stacked on its launch pad at the Guiana Space Center, and the 44 satellites that will ride the launcher into orbit have been integrated with a multi-payload dispenser for encapsulation inside the Vega’s aerodynamic nose shroud.

- The payload fairing containing the 44 satellites will be raised atop the Vega rocket in the coming days to cap assembly of the 30 m vehicle.

- The rideshare mission is the first flight of the SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) platform designed to accommodate dozens of microsatellites and CubeSats on a single launch.

- Arianespace sold capacity on the Vega rocket to satellite operators and launch brokers, such as Seattle-based Spaceflight, Innovative Solutions in Space of the Netherlands, and D-Orbit of Italy. In the end, Arianespace and the launch brokers signed contracts to launch 44 spacecraft on the SSMS proof of concept mission.

- “We just finished integration of all of the payloads together,” Ranzo said. “There are 44 of them, so it was quite some work in the payload processing facility. The launcher is integrated on the launch pad. It takes (some) days for electrical checks, for filling up the upper stage fluids, and so on.

- “But most of the work has been completed,” Ranzo said. “So a number of question marks always remain, like weather conditions and high-altitude winds, stuff like that. But other than that, I think we’re good to go.”

- Ranzo said the Vega launcher’s upper stage will perform numerous small maneuvers to deploy the 44 satellites into polar sun-synchronous orbits at two different altitudes a few hundred miles above Earth.


Figure 18: The 44 satellites slated to ride the next Vega rocket into orbit have been stacked onto a multi-payload dispenser in Kourou, French Guiana (image credit: Avio)

• March 9, 2020: Spaceflight Inc. of Seattle, WA is providing mission management and rideshare integration services for four organizations on Arianespace’s first dedicated rideshare mission on its Vega launch vehicle. The proof of concept rideshare mission, VV16, will launch 53 microsatellites, nanosatellites and CubeSats, including 28 payloads from Spaceflight customers Satellogic, Planet, Swarm Technologies, and an undisclosed organization. 13)

a) NewSat-6, is a low Earth orbit remote sensing satellite designed and manufactured by Satellogic with HQs in Argentina, a vertically integrated geospatial analytics company that is building the first Earth observation platform with the ability to remap the entire planet at both high-frequency and high-resolution. This is Satellogic’s 11th spacecraft in orbit, equipped with multispectral and hyperspectral imaging capabilities and it will be added to the company’s growing satellite constellation.

b) 14 Flock-4v, 3U CubeSats, next-generation SuperDove satellites of Planet Inc., San Francisco, they will join its constellation of 150 Earth-imaging spacecraft.

c) 12 (.25U) picosatellites of Swarm Technologies’ which provide affordable global connectivity.

d) An undisclosed microsatellite.

• May 9, 2019: Arianespace announced today that it has been selected by exactEarth to launch the ESAIL satellite using a Vega as part of the launcher’s Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof of Concept (POC) flight. 14)

- It is the final contract signed by Arianespace for this POC flight, which is now completely booked with 42 payloads onboard.

- The ESAIL satellite will be launched in a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 515 km. on a Vega SSMS rideshare flight in 2019 from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

- exactEarth is a leading provider of global AIS (Automatic Identification System) maritime vessel data for ship tracking and maritime situational awareness solutions. Using world-leading satellite vessel detection technology – combined with the most advanced constellation of AIS satellites – exactEarth delivers the highest quality real-time information to customers around the world.

- The ESAIL microsatellite has a mass of 110 kg. and features an enhanced multiple antenna-receiver configuration for global detection of AIS messages and high-resolution spectrum capture, which will enable the demonstration of advanced future services such as VDES (VHF Data Exchange System) message reception.

- After launch and commissioning, the ESAIL satellite will be integrated into exactEarth’s global constellation – which currently consists of more than 60 high-performance maritime monitoring payloads.

- The ESAIL satellite was supported by European Space Agency (ESA – ESTEC) through the ARTES 21 SAT-AIS (SATellite Automatic Identification System) program, and was developed and built by a European manufacturing team led by the satellite prime contractor Luxspace.

• May 2, 2018: Arianespace and D-Orbit SpA of Fino Mornasco (near Lake Como) in northernItaly, announced today the signature of an agreement to offer ION (InOrbit NOW) launch and deployment service through the launch of D-Orbit’s ION CubeSat Carrier on the Vega launch vehicle, as part of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) Proof Of Concept flight (POC flight). 15)

- D-Orbit’s ION CubeSat Carrier, a free flying CubeSat deployer and technology demonstrator, will be launched on Vega in 2019 from the Guiana Space Center, Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The CubeSat carrier will host several CubeSats to be deployed once in orbit.

- D-Orbit’s InOrbit NOW is a revolutionary launch and deployment service designed to transport CubeSats to space and release them into independent orbital slots.

- Arianespace’s launch contract with D-Orbit includes a significant number of CubeSats with an overall separated mass of about 100 kg. Positioned in a sun-synchronous orbit at 500 km. The ION CubeSat Carrier will deploy the hosted CubeSats along the orbit over a period of approximately one month. After completing the CubeSat deployment phase, ION CubeSat Carrier will initiate the in­orbit validation phase of payloads directly integrated on the platform.

• April 24, 2018: Last week, Arianespace signed a contract with smallsat rideshare organizer Spaceflight Industries of Seattle to conduct two Vega launches with a new adaptor for CubeSats and microsatellites. The first of those launches is expected no sooner than 2019. 16)

- Spaceflight will line up the passengers for the Small Spacecraft Mission System (SSMS), an adapter developed by the European Space Agency to accommodate 10 to 15 smallsats ranging from single-digit-kilogram CubeSats to microsatellites and minisatellites up to 400 kg.

- The contract is a significant achievement for Arianespace and Vega’s manufacturer Avio of Colleferro, Italy, which have watched as Spaceflight booked numerous small satellites on U.S., Indian and Russian rockets — including the Russian-operated version of the Soyuz that Arianespace launches from Kourou.

- Vega has launched 11 times since debuting in 2012, and has three missions slated for this year. The rocket, largely promoted by the Italian Space Agency, cemented its place in Europe’s future when the European Space Agency in 2014 decided on Ariane 6 and Vega C as Europe’s next generation of launch vehicles. When Ariane 6 launches in 2020, it will use the same P120C solid propellant engine for its strap-on boosters as Vega C does for its first stage, enabling Avio to increase production and lower cost through scale. Vega C’s first flight is scheduled for 2019.


Figure 19: Artist's rendition of Vega deploying multiple smallsats using the SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) adapter (image credit: European Space Agency.)

1) F. Caramelli, F. Battie, A. Scaccia, A. De Lillis, S. Corbo, A. Dalloneau, A. Fontana, A. Cramarossa, A. Gabrielli, ”Optimized flight preparation process for the first Vega Rideshare mission,” Proceedings of the 32nd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan UT, USA, Aug. 4-9, 2018, paper: SSC18-IV-08, URL:

2) F. Caramelli, F. Battie, A. Scaccia, S. Corbo, A. Dalloneau, F. Fabiani, A. Fontana, M. Mariani, P. Guerrieri, A. Cramarossa, A. Gabrielli,”The first Vega ride-share mission flight,” Proceedings of the 33rd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, August 3-8, 2019, Logan, UT, USA, paper: SSC19-X-04, URL:

3) ”Vega Flight VV16 – the SSMS Proof of Concept mission: Postponed until August 17, 2020,” Arianespace, 1 July 2020, URL:

4) ”Launch Kit VV16 SSMS PoC,” Arianespace, 12 June 2020, URL:


6) Mike Safyan, ”Planet’s First Launch of 2020: 26 SuperDoves on a Vega,” Planet, 13 February 2020, URL:

7) ”The Vega launcher is integrated for Arianespace’s first rideshare mission,” Arianespace, 15 June 2020, URL:

8) ”Rideshare service for light satellites to launch on Vega,” ESA / Enabling & Support / Space Transportation, 12 June 2020, URL:

9) ”Preparations resume for Vega’s upcoming mission with 53 small satellite passengers,” Arianespace, 1 June 2020, URL:

10) ”Preparations are underway for Arianespace’s upcoming Vega and Ariane 5 missions,” Arianespace, 13 May 2020, URL:

11) ”COVID-19: Arianespace to resume its launch campaigns at the Guiana Space Center,” Arianespace, 29 April 2020, URL:

12) Stephen Clark, ”Italian maker of Vega rocket says launch remains on track for later this month,” Spaceflight Now, 13 March 2020, URL:

13) Jodi Sorensen, ”Spaceflight Readies 28 Payloads for Inaugural Rideshare Launch on Arianespace’s Vega,” Spaceflight, 9 March 2020, URL:

14) ”Arianespace to launch the ESAIL satellite for exactEarth on Vega’s SSMS POC flight,” Arianespace, 9 May 2019, URL:

15) ”Arianespace and D-Orbit sign contract to launch ION Cubesat Carrier on Vega SSMS POC flight,” Arianespace, 2 May 2028, URL:

16) Caleb Henry, ”Avio eyes larger chunk of smallsat launch market,” SpaceNews, 24 April 2018, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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