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Vega C rocket fails on second launch attempt

Vega C rocket fails on second launch attempt

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The Vega-C rocket lifts off from its launch pad at the Kourou Space Base in French Guiana on Tuesday, December 20, 2022.

The Vega-C rocket launches from its launch pad at the Kourou space base, French Guiana, December 21, 2022. Photo by JM Guillon (AP)

Arianespace’s medium-lift Vega-C rocket failed to reach orbit on its second mission, resulting in the destruction of the two satellites on board.

The rocket, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), built by Italian company Avio and operated by Arianespace, lifted on Tuesday at 8:47 p.m. ET from the Kourou Space Base in French Guiana using the Neo 5 and Neo 6 satellites for Airbus’ Pléiades Neo Earth-Imaging constellation.

The rocket’s first stage successfully separated from the second stage, but problems arose shortly thereafter. About two minutes and 27 seconds after launch, the rocket’s second stage, called the Zefiro 40, experienced a catastrophic anomaly, Arianespace announced on twitter.

“Following nominal firing of the second stage engine (Zefiro 40) approximately 144 seconds after liftoff, a pressure drop was observed leading to the premature end of the mission,” Arianespace wrote in a statement.

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“After this negative pressure, we observed the trajectory deviation and very strong anomalies, so unfortunately we can say that the mission is lost,” Stéphane Israël, Arianespace’s chief executive, said in the launch webcast, as reported by SpaceNews. According to standard procedures, the missile was ordered to self-destruct.

The satellites on board should complete the Airbus constellation of six satellites and provide high-resolution images of the Earth.

According to an Arianespace statement, Arianespace and ESA have set up an independent commission of inquiry to analyze the reason for the rocket’s failure and determine what needs to be done before Vega-C can resume flight.

Vega-C was originally scheduled for launch on November 24, but the mission was delayed due to faulty equipment in the payload fairing separation system. The launch system hasn’t had the best track record, with the latest incident marking the third time a Vega rocket has suffered a mission failure in the last eight launches, according to the BBC. In November 2020, a Vega rocket failed eight minutes into the mission due to human error.

More on this story: Vega rocket failure apparently caused by human error

It’s a disappointing follow-up to Vega-C’s debut this summer. On Jul 13, Vega-C successfully completed its inaugural flight, launching the Italian Space Agency’s LARES-2 into orbit as the primary payload. Vega-C is a more powerful successor to the Vega launcher that has been around for 10 years. Vega-C features a more powerful first and second stage and an improved re-ignitable upper stage.

Tuesday’s mission marked the first time Vega-C carried a commercial payload, so it’s unfortunate that the mission ended in failure. ESA is counting on Vega-C to launch European payloads into orbit and maintain its presence in the growing space industry by owning its own launch vehicle.

ESA is also preparing for the premiere of Ariane 6, the next-generation launch vehicle that will follow Ariane 5. Ariane 6 was originally scheduled to be launched in 2020 but has suffered numerous delays and is now scheduled to fly in 2023. “With Vega-C and Ariane 6, Europe will have a flexible, self-contained solution for a rapidly changing launch market,” said Daniel Neuenschwande, ESA’s Director of Space Transport, in a statement in June.

Hopefully, ESA can recover from the mission’s failure and get Vega-C back on track.

More: We can’t wait for these futuristic rockets to finally take off

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