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Vega-C slated to carry ESA's solar wind explorer mission Smile
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Vega-C slated to carry ESA's solar wind explorer mission Smile
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) May 01, 2024

The European Space Agency (ESA) has secured a Vega-C rocket for the launch of its Smile mission, a collaborative venture with the Chinese Academy of Sciences aimed at exploring solar wind dynamics.

The Smile mission, standing for 'Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer', is designed to enhance our understanding of solar and terrestrial interactions, representing a significant European contribution to this scientific endeavor.

A formal agreement was signed Monday, ensuring Smile's launch via Vega-C from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, anticipated for late 2025. The Vega-C rocket, noted for its flexibility in handling various cargo sizes and shapes, bolsters Europe's capacity for independent space access.

"Today marks a major milestone for our innovative Smile mission and signals the determination of all our teams and partners to deliver a successful mission on schedule for maximum scientific benefit," says ESA Director of Science Prof. Carole Mundell.

Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace, adds, "This signature marks over four years of collaborative efforts between Arianespace and ESA Science teams to develop the Smile mission with a Vega-C launcher."

David Agnolon, Smile Project Manager, explains why Vega-C is a great choice for Smile, "We are delighted to be launching Smile on such a versatile launch vehicle. Vega-C has been selected as it perfectly matches the needs of the mission, such as required mass capability and injection orbit."

Smile is set to be deployed into a low-Earth orbit, eventually transitioning to a high-Earth, egg-shaped orbit allowing for extensive monitoring of near-Earth space. The mission will utilize novel X-ray and ultraviolet imaging technologies to observe solar wind interactions with Earth's magnetic field and provide unprecedented views of the northern lights.

The mission represents the first fully collaborative space science venture between ESA and China, encompassing design, implementation, and operation phases. ESA's responsibilities include the payload module, spacecraft testing facilities, the primary ground station in Antarctica, and contributions to science operations.

"Several technical and programmatic difficulties have been jointly overcome by ESA and CAS teams through efficient and respectful collaboration. We all look forward to seeing Smile in orbit in 2025 and collecting scientific data over several years," says Frederic Safa, head of ESA's Future Missions Department.

In autumn 2024, the European and Chinese spacecraft sections will be assembled at ESA's technical centre, ESTEC, and tested as a unified entity before being transported to Europe's Spaceport for the launch.

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