French rocket maker Arianespace confirmed on Tuesday that one of its Vega rockets failed to deliver two European satellites into orbit and instead fell back to Earth in a “completely uninhabited area”
The failed launch is the ninth time an orbital mission has failed to reach its target in 2020, the most failures in a calendar year since 1971, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who meticulously observes launches and other orbital events.
I have been telling people for months that 2020 is a better year in space than on Earth, given successful missions like,, and , but raw data show that 2020 is not a great start either.
You might expect to see more failures because there are certainly more attempts to launch in 2020, but McDowell says that’s not the case.
“Mostly this is a consequence of many first flights of new vehicles,” he wrote on Twitter.
Virgin Orbit’s first attempt is on the list of unexpected experiences; the debut of the newcomer Astra in its Rocket 3.1; and a new Chinese vehicle, the Kuaizhou 11, which failed on its first trip. Three more Chinese missiles, the Rocket Lab Electron and the Iranian Simorgh missile, complete the list of floppy launchers for 2020.
As for the Vega rocket, Arianespace told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday that it believed “human error” had led to the failure. It appears that some cables were improperly connected to the upper stage of the missile, causing it to fall out of control.
The rocket successfully took off from French Guiana on Monday night, carrying two satellites to observe the Earth. Everything seemed normal until about eight minutes after the mission, when Arianespace first discovered problems. The whole mission was soon lost.
Investigations into Vega’s failure will continue. Meanwhile, there are still more than a dozen upcoming orbital launches on the calendar before the end of the year. Here we hope that more of them will not fall into the curse of 2020.