Europe launches new Vega rocket on maiden voyage | Fox News

Feb. 13, 2012: The European Space Agency's first Vega rocket lifts off from Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana in a flawless launch debut. ESA /Stephane Corvaja

A brand-new rocket soared into space early Monday (Feb. 13) in a launch debut that carried nine small satellites and the hopes of the European Space Agency all the way into orbit.

The space agency’s new Vega rocket, which is designed to launch small satellites, blasted off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northern Atlantic coast of South America and reached orbit minutes later. Liftoff occurred at 5 a.m. ET (1000 GMT).

“Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1,000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s launch vehicle director, in a statement.

ESA spent 700 million Euros (about $930 million) and nearly nine years developing the four-stage Vega rocket and plans to spend another 300 million Euros (about $399 million) on the booster’s first five flights. The new booster is designed to serve as a launcher for small payloads to complement Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets and the medium-class Russian Soyuz rockets that lift off from the Guiana Space Center.

“Vega will complete the possibilities for space launch for Europe,” Fabrizi told SPACE.com before the launch. [Video: Europe’s First Vega Rocket Launch]

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