ESA's Vega rocket delivers Taiwanese and Thai satellites to low Earth orbit

Also on board, cubesat that dodges space debris with plasma braking technology

Arianespace delivered 12 satellites into low earth orbit via a Vega rocket launch from Spaceport in French Guiana on Sunday night.

The rocket separated from Thailand's optical observation satellite, THEOS-2, and Taiwan's weather satellite, Triton, first. It followed up that maneuver 50 minutes later by releasing the ten remaining onboard cubesats from customers including the European Commission.

It was Arianespace's second attempt at launching the payload after an October 6 launch was canceled at the last minute. The scrub was thanks to a measurement coming in over the maximum threshold during the final countdown.

THEOS-2 was manufactured by Airbus for Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA). It operates in conjunction with the smaller THEOS-2A to provide information on water resources, weather, and land for the country's Ministry of Agriculture.

Triton is designed to collect information regarding wind fields over the ocean for Taiwan's Central Weather Administration to improve typhoon forecasts. The data will be shared with the global meteorology community.

Vega has delivered payloads up into space since 2012. The European Space Agency (ESA) refers to it as its "small launcher," which is quite accurate when comparing it to Vega-C, ESA's other launcher, which is grounded while engineers explore a redesign of its failed nozzle.

Although Vega-C would be taking on heftier payloads if it were flying, the original specializes in placing medium-sized satellites in low Earth polar orbits, a perfect spot for scientific and Earth observation missions, said ESA.

Of the three European Commission cubesats onboard, one is Estonia's ESTCube-2, a shoebox-sized satellite designed by undergrads that contains microcameras to survey vegetation and, if successful, will become the first in-orbit demonstration of plasma brake technology to slow orbit so the spacecraft can dodge space debris.

The brake system relies on a propellant-free electric sail that utilizes a charged tether to repel stationary plasma in Earth's ionosphere and create drag to slow the spacecraft down.

The tether is made up of interweaved aluminum tethered lines 30 metres long and the diameter of the average human hair. ®

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