The loss of Vega-C, a severe failure for Europe in space

Liftoff of the Vega C rocket, in Kourou (French Guiana), on December 20, 2022.

Cruel end to the year and above all gloomy prospects for Europe in space. Its ambition to stay in the race against the Americans and the Chinese is seriously called into question after the failure of the launch of its new Vega-C rocket. Tuesday, December 20, two minutes and twenty-seven seconds after taking off from the Kourou base in French Guiana, this launcher which was to put two Airbus Pléiade observation satellites into orbit left its trajectory due to a drop in pressure from its second stage. According to standard procedure, the order to destroy this rocket was then given. The debris fell into the Atlantic Ocean without causing any casualties.

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An independent commission of inquiry will be set up, indicated the executive president of Arianespace, Stéphane Israël. She’ll have “the responsibility to highlight the cause of the failure and to propose solid and durable corrective actions to ensure a safe and reliable return to flight of Vega-C”he specified. “We take full responsibility for this failure,” for his part recognized Giulio Ranzo, the boss of the Italian Avio, industrial prime contractor for this rocket.

This failure weakens Arianespace, which risks finding itself several months without a launcher to honor its commercial contracts. Until early 2022, the European firm had a range of three rockets, including two European ones: the small Vega, for light satellites in low orbit between 300 and 2,000 kilometers from the Earth, and its big sister Ariane 5, for heavy loads to be placed geostationary at 36,000 kilometers. It completed its offer with Russian Soyuz launchers to low orbit, essential to meet its order book.


The year 2022 was to be that of the renewal of the range with the commissioning of Vega-C, more efficient than the previous model, and Ariane 6, a versatile launcher able to cover both low orbit and geostationary, at prices 40% to 50% lower than those of Ariane 5 to be competitive with the Falcon rockets launched by Space X, the firm of Elon Musk. But nothing went as planned.

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Starting with Soyuz. Following the outbreak of war in Ukraine on February 24, Moscow decided to stop all collaboration with Europe and the Russian teams left Kourou. No more launching rockets. It is impossible for Arianespace to transfer the satellites planned for the Soyuz missions to Vega-C, the load plan being complete. Private customers then turned to other launch companies. Thus, to continue to deploy its constellation of satellites broadcasting broadband Internet, the French OneWeb has chosen the American SpaceX but also the Indian NewSpace India Limited.

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