A new European rocket will make its debut Wednesday morning (July 13), and you can watch the action live.
Vega C, a medium-lift rocket operated by French company Arianespace, is scheduled to lift off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on Wednesday at 7:13 a.m. EDT (1113 GMT; 8:13 a.m. local time in Kourou). Watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of Arianespace, or directly via the company (opens in new tab).
It will be the first-ever mission for the four-stage Vega C, which is significantly more powerful than the original Vega rocket. The new variant can haul 2.3 tons of payload to a polar orbit about 435 miles (700 kilometers) above Earth, compared to 1.5 tons for Vega, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said in a statement (opens in new tab).
Related: The history of rockets
At 114.2 feet (34.8 meters) tall, Vega C is nearly 16.5 feet (5 m) taller than Vega, ESA officials added. The new version also has a larger fairing — the protective shell that surrounds satellites during launch — and boasts twice the payload volume of the original Vega.
Vega C’s main payload on Wednesday’s mission is LARES-2, a scientific satellite developed by the Italian Space Agency.
“Once in orbit, LARES-2’s precise path will be tracked by laser, from ground stations,” ESA officials said in the same statement.
“The purpose of the mission is to measure the so-called frame-dragging effect, a distortion of space-time caused by the rotation of a massive body such as Earth as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity,” they added. “Its predecessor, the similar LARES, was the main payload on the 2012 inaugural flight of Vega.”
Vega C will also tote six tiny cubesats as “rideshare” payloads. These little satellites will do a variety of work in Earth orbit, from studying the effects of space radiation on electronics to growing plants in microgravity.
If all goes according to plan, the Vega C launch will come just six hours after Rocket Lab lofts a spy satellite for the U.S. military. And there will be another high-profile mission just around the corner: SpaceX plans to launch one of its robotic Dragon cargo capsules on a resupply mission to the International Space Station on Thursday (July 14).
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).