WASHINGTON – The upper stage of the Vega rocket was damaged minutes after taking off from French Guiana, causing the loss of two satellites in the rocket’s second failure in its last three launches.
The Vega rocket took off from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 20:53 East with a mission assigned by Arianespace VV17. The initial phases of the shot looked good, but observers noted that the missile appeared to deviate from its intended trajectory during the first combustion of the upper stage of the Avum rocket.
Two hours after the launch, Arianespace confirmed that the launch was unsuccessful. “Eight minutes after the departure of the Vega VV17 mission, after the first ignition of the engine on the upper stage of Avum, a deviation of the trajectory was found, leading to the loss of the mission,”
The company did not disclose other details about the failure, but said it would hold a briefing on November 17th to provide more information.
Avum is an upper stage with liquid fuel used to bring the payload into orbit and then perform maneuvers. In this launch, Avum had to perform five burns in an hour and 45 minutes while deploying a payload of two satellites.
The above stage is integrated by Avio, the main contractor of Vega. The structure is provided by Airbus Defense and Space, and the propulsion system by the Ukrainian company Yuzhnoye.
The failure is the second of Vega’s three starts, after all 14 of his starts were successful. The launch in July 2019 of an image satellite for the United Arab Emirates was lost due to a structural failure in the second phase of the solid propellant rocket.
Vega did not return to flight until September 2, when the VV16 mission fired 53 small saucers on a special rideshare mission. The rocket’s return has been delayed for months since the closure of the Kuru spaceport during the coronavirus pandemic, and then due to bad weather.
Two European research satellites were lost in the launch failure. The 750-kilogram SEOSAT-Ingenio, named the first Earth observation satellite in Spain, was built by Airbus Defense and Space to provide wide-range images for civilian applications. The 175-kilogram TARANIS, or Lightning and Sprites’ RAdiation Analysis Tool, was built by the French space agency CNES to study electromagnetic phenomena in the upper atmosphere created by thunderstorms.
Prior to this failure, Vega’s next launch, the VV18, was scheduled for early 2021, carrying the Pléiades-Neo 1 imaging satellite and a set of smallsat secondary payloads.