Europe’s Vega rocket crashes to Earth


Artwork of the Zefiro 40 stage firing at the Vega-C missile

Europe’s premier small rocket failed again in flight.

The Vega vehicle was lost for 2.5 minutes on its last mission from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

It carried two French-built high-resolution spacecraft for Earth imaging.

This is the third Vega failure in eight outings and puts further pressure on the European satellite sector, which has lost use of Russian missiles and will soon witness the retirement of the heavy launcher Ariane-5.

The successor, Ariane-6, is in any case one year after joining the company.

It was the new variant of Vega, known as Vega C, that failed. This rocket has a total of four stages, most of which burn solid fuel.

The first stage motor, designated P120C, seemed to perform without any problems.

The anomaly occurred in the rocket’s second stage, the Zefiro 40.

An immediate analysis indicated a “negative pressure” in the segment. Real-time flight recording showed that the missile failed to maintain its planned trajectory.

The vehicle and its Pléiades Neo Earth observation satellites crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

“After launch and rated ignition of the P120C, the Vega first stage, a negative pressure was observed on the Zefiro 40, the Vega second stage,” confirms Stéphane Israel, CEO of Arianespace, the company that developed the Kourou. spaceport.

“And after this suppression, we observed a deviation from the trajectory and a very strong anomaly. Unfortunately, we can say that the mission is lost.”

Mr. Israel apologized to the satellite owners, the aerospace company Airbus Defense and Space.

The two lost satellites would have been one of the most powerful European optical imagers in space, capable of resolving details on the ground as small as 30 cm in diameter.

Airbus had previously suspended four Pléiades Neo satellites. Units five and six would have completed the planned constellation.

Arianespace promises further details about the accident in a press briefing later on Wednesday.

An independent commission will be set up to investigate what happened. Only after the findings are delivered and any remedies taken can Vega be expected to get back on the run.

In the previous failure, in November 2020, this was a gap of five months.

Satellite operators in Europe were already chasing a limited number of rocket rides.

Due to the war in Ukraine and resulting Western sanctions, Russian Soyuz rockets – a mainstay of European space operations – are no longer on the market.

The Ariane-5, the largest rocket in Europe, will have only two more flights in early 2023 before being withdrawn. However, the successor to the Ariane-6 is not yet ready to fly. The first mission is scheduled for the end of 2023 and could even fail in 2024.

The shortage of rides recently prompted the European Space Agency to purchase two American launches.

The Euclid Telescope and the asteroid Hera mission will ascend on SpaceX Falcon-9 vehicles in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

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