The launch of the Arianespace Vega rocket failed overnight after reaching space, costing France and Spain a satellite to observe the Earth. The failure is the second in two years since Vega set a flawless record in its first six years of service.
The Vega is designed for relatively small satellites, typically handling total weights in the 1
Vega started off flawlessly, averaging about two a year for the first six years of operation, before the solid booster led to the first loss in 2019. After investigating that failure, the rocket returned to service just over two months ago with a successful launch.
Last night’s flight saw the solid rockets perform flawlessly, carrying the top stage and satellites north of the Atlantic to polar orbit. From there, the upper stage had to take over to deposit two satellites in separate orbits. The larger of the two was the Spanish SEOSAT-Ingenio, an Earth imaging satellite with a wide-field color camera capable of resolving characteristics up to 10 meters. The second is a French satellite called TARANIS, which is designed to collect data on some of the extreme events that occur during thunderstorms.
Something went wrong with the liquid fuel step after it had reached an altitude of over 200 km. At the time, it was not entirely clear what had failed, according to Arianespace CEO Stefan Israel, “The speed was no longer nominal.” This caused the upper stage and the satellites to deviate from the planned trajectory and Arianespace lost control of the vehicle shortly thereafter. The spacecraft returned to Earth near where the upper stage was expected to fall in an area that is completely uninhabited.
The failure occurred at the launch stage, where Arianespace was able to obtain detailed telemetry data from tracking stations in North America. If the damage occurred after the missile exceeded the pole, the company would have to wait for the upper stage and payload to come within range of an Australian tracking station before further details could be gathered.
The company’s initial investigation focused on the fourth stage liquid fuel engine, in particular the “problem related to the integration of the AVUM fourth stage nozzle activation system”, which is “the most likely reason for the loss of control of the launch pad . “Arianespace has already appointed a European Space Agency official to lead the failure investigation, which will focus on why the problem was not detected and corrected before launch.