The new European light launcher Vega-C, which was to make its first commercial flight with two Airbus satellites on board, was lost after takeoff from Kourou, French Guiana, on Tuesday December 20. This failure inflicts a setback on a weakened space Europe.
Ten minutes after liftoff, at 10:47 p.m. local time, the trajectory of the launcher deviated from that programmed, then the telemetry stopped arriving at the control room of the Kourou Space Center.
“The mission is lost”said the president of Arianespace, Stéphane Israel, from the Guiana Space Center. “About 2 minutes and 27 seconds after takeoff, an anomaly occurred on the Zefiro 40”the second stage of the launcher, “thus ending the Vega-C mission”said the company responsible for its operation in a brief press release.
The rocket was to place two observation satellites in orbit
Arianespace noted that there was no debris fallout after the takeoff of the European launcher, under Italian prime contractor.
“Data analyzes are underway to determine the reasons for this failure”, added Arianespace. A press briefing is scheduled for Wednesday in Kourou, at noon local time.
The Vega-C rocket was to place two Earth observation satellites built by Airbus, Pléiades Neo 5 and 6, into orbit, the last two of the Pléiades Neo constellation intended to make it possible to image any point on the globe several times a day with a resolution of 30 centimeters.
Initially scheduled for November 24, this flight had been postponed for a month due to a defective launcher element. “We had to change equipment related to the headdress”Stéphane Israel told Agence France-Presse.
Premier vol commercial
It was Vega-C’s first commercial flight after its successful July 13 maiden launch, marking the introduction of the new European launcher family.
Vega-C is presented as the little sister of the future Ariane 6, of which it uses common elements to enable Europe to be more competitive in a booming satellite market.
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Vega-C – C pour « consolidation », according to its industrial prime contractor, the Italian Avio – is an improved version of the Vega light launcher, fired twenty times since 2012. The latter had suffered two failures: one in November 2020 due to a launcher manufacturing problem , fell back into the sea after breaking up in the atmosphere, the other, in the summer of 2019, after a failure which had led to its destruction, as a precaution.
ESA, forced to turn to SpaceX
This new failure is a major setback for the European Space Agency (ESA), responsible for European launcher programs, as global competition rages on the launch market, with the American SpaceX in the lead.
The Ariane 6 rocket is the main engine of the response, but the postponement to the end of 2023 of the inaugural flight initially planned for 2020 has penalized ESA, which has twenty-two Member States.
Europe in space is further weakened by the invasion of Ukraine, which put an end to its space cooperation with Russia and deprived the European space base of Kourou of satellite launches by Soyuz rockets.
ESA was thus forced to turn to SpaceX to launch two scientific missions.
The Vega-C launch was the fifth and last of 2022 for Europe’s spaceport in Kourou.