France: A military observation satellite built in secrecy in France for the Moroccan government launched today by Vega rocket from the Guiana Space Center in South America. The satellite known as Mohammed VI-A optical imaging craft, lifted off at 8:42:31 p.m. EST Tuesday (0142:31 GMT Wednesday) from the European-run spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
“Arianespace is delighted to confirm that the Mohammed VI-A satellite successfully separated in its targeted sun-synchronous orbit,” said Luce Fabreguettes, executive vice president for missions, operations and purchasing at Arianespace, the French company that oversees Vega missions. “This is the third successful launch for Vega this year, and its 11th success for clients and partners since the launch vehicle began its career at the Guiana Space Center.”
Since debuting in 2012, the launcher has placed 26 spacecraft into orbit in 11 flights for commercial customers, international governments, the European Space Agency and the European Commission.
“Vega has kept up its track record of consecutive successes,” staid Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio, the Italian lead contractor on the Vega rocket program. “We are proud to have helped to open up access to space for a new country: the Kingdom of Morocco. This achievement underlines the effectiveness of our partnership with Arianespace and our European industrial partners.”
The Mohammed VI-A satellite is designed for civilian and military uses, but little information about the spacecraft’s capabilities has been released. It was only know by the codename MN35-13, and the satellite’s end user was undisclosed until an official announcement of the impending launch last week.
The satellite weighs around 2,450 pounds (1,110 kilograms) at launch, according to Arianespace.
The Moroccan government ordered two high-resolution Earth observation satellites from Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defense and Space in 2013 after an intergovernmental agreement between Morocco and France.
The two European aerospace contractors, normally competitors, teamed up on the program, with Thales taking lead as prime contractor and supplier of the satellites’ optical imaging equipment, and Airbus responsible for constructing the spacecraft platforms in Toulouse, France.
“Four years ago, when we eventually signed this contract after almost three years of intensive negotiations, (Morocco) asked us to launch the first satellite before the end of 2017,” said Jean-Loic Galle, chairman and CEO of Thales Alenia Space. “We had answered that would be a tough challenge for such an ambitious program. Today, we’re proud to say mission accomplished.”