The Arianespace Vega rocket, carrying two satellites, failed to reach orbit yesterday after a catastrophic failure eight minutes after launch. Officials classify the missile’s loss as a “series of human errors.”
Vega Flight BB17 started well, with a high 98 feet (30-meter) rocket taking off from the Space Center in Guyana at 20:52 ET. The first three stages, all powered by solid fuel, did their job, propelling the vehicle and its cargo over the Atlantic Ocean to space. Then, when the upper stage was triggered with liquid fuel, things went awry.
According to the satellite launch company Arianespace, the problem started around eight-minute mark of the mission. At this stage, the upper stage, called the AVUM (Attitude and Vernier Upper Module), detached properly and ignited, in what was to be the first of four consecutive rocket burns. Immediately after the first ignition, however, AVUM disappeared from the course, never to recover. The upper stage and its cargo – Spanish Earth observation satellite SEOSAT-Ingenio and French atmospheric observation satellite TARANIS – have sunk into an uninhabited area, he said. Arianespace statement.
“Tonight during the Vega VV17 mission … there was an anomaly that caused a deviation in the trajectory, leading to the loss of the mission,” explained Avio, the main contractor of the Vega rocket, briefly. statement.
Startup failure, the second for Arianespace in the last three attempts, represents a loss of $ 400 million, reports Space Flight Now.
Speaking at a press conference Earlier today, Arianespace CTO Roland Lagier said the above stage had failed miserably during the primary engine burnout, which caused it to take off, as SpaceNews reports. He added that telemetry data from the mission, as well as factory production notes, indicated a probable cause of the flight anomaly. The cables connected to a pair of traction control actuators appear to be reversed.
As these two cables were installed upside down, the commands intended for one drive were transmitted to the other, which led to a rollover. As Arianespace notes in its statement, “the problem with the integration of the AVUM nozzle activation system in the fourth stage is the most likely reason for the loss of control of the starter.”
“It was obviously a problem with production and quality, a series of human errors, not design,” Lagier said, according to SpaceNews.
Arianespace will continue to investigate the incident with the help of the European Space Agency, as the company explained in its statement:
In accordance with their standard protocols, Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) will set up an independent commission of inquiry, co-chaired by Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transport at ESA, and Stefan Israel, CEO of Arianespace, on 18 November. The Commission will provide detailed evidence to explain why no steps have been taken to identify and correct the integration error. The Commission will formulate a roadmap for the return of Vega in flight under conditions of complete reliability. Arianespace and ESA will jointly present the findings of this committee.
Arianespace said future launches, including three scheduled for later this year, should not be affected by this latest failure. During the press conference, Stefan Israel, CEO of Arianespace, said that the incident yesterday was not related to unsuccessful launch of Vega on July 10, 2019, in which an image satellite belonging to the United Arab Emirates was lost. Arianespace attributed this incident with a structural problem with the second stage of Vega, which has since been resolved.
Incidents with cosmic and human errors are rare, but they do happen. Some notable examples include the loss of NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 due to the engineering team. conversion failure imperial measurements to metric and recent ISS air leak attributed to shoddy workmanship (or possibly sabotage).