ESA's Vega rocket takes flight, delivers low-tonnage objects to high places

On Monday, the European Space Agency (ESA) conducted a successful test of its newest projectile, the Vega rocket. Designed to carry up to nine objects totaling less than 2.5 metric tons ("tonnes," for those in the know) into orbit, the four-stage vehicle stands 30 meters tall and weighs in at just under 140 metric tons when fully loaded. The rocket aims to solve a key -- if slightly humdrum -- problem: at present, European researchers send their instrumentation into space on retrofitted Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The Vega platform should provide greater launch flexibility and reduce the delay (which can be months) scientists experience while waiting to hitch a ride on an ICBM. Although still in the testing stage, Monday's maiden voyage was a promising first step for the new spacecraft. Hit the source for more rocket-related excitement.