Europe has a brand new rocket.
The small (30-meter tall) Vega launcher, designed to lift economy-sized payloads weighing between 300 and 2,500 kilograms, made its debut early this morning from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
That gives Europe three options to meet all your rocketry needs: the Ariane 5 for large satellites, the Russian-built Soyuz for medium payloads, and now the Vega. Among the jazzier payloads it will carry is the IXV experimental re-entry vehicle for returning payloads from orbit, which is scheduled to fly in 2014.
Here’s a nice time-lapse video of the Vega’s three solid-fuel stages and a fourth, restartable upper stage being assembled in Kourou: