Europe’s new Vega-C rocket was lost shortly after takeoff from French Guiana overnight with two satellites on board, in the latest blow to Europe’s space efforts.
The boot failure on Tuesday night threatened to land Vega-C, will leave Europe there is no short-term way to send satellites into orbit following the delay on the Ariane 6 rocket and the cancellation of cooperation with Russia in the Ukraine war.
If successful, it will be Vega-C’s first commercial launch since its maiden flight on July 13.
But just minutes after taking off at 10:47 p.m. local time (0147 GMT Wednesday), the launchpad’s trajectory deviated from its programmed course and communication was lost, according to the launch service provider. commercial Arianespace.
“The mission has failed,” said Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel from the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana, a French department on the northeastern coast of South America.
The company said an “unusual incident occurred” during the second phase of the launch, “end of Vega-C’s mission”.
The rocket was launched across the Atlantic Ocean and passed an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) and more than 900 kilometers north of Kourou.
It was not immediately clear whether the device that destroyed the missile was activated or if it plunged into the sea.
“Data analysis is underway to determine the reason for this failure,” it added.
A press conference is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Kourou.
A ‘sober reminder’: Musk
Elon Musk, CEO of rival US rocket maker SpaceX, tweeted that he was “sorry to hear this”.
“It’s a stark reminder of the difficulty of orbital flight,” he added.
Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, a US rocket launch service provider, tweeted that “small launches are harder than most people think”.
The rocket attempted to put into orbit two Airbus-built Earth observation satellites that were scheduled to join the constellation Pleiades Neo. The constellation is capable of taking very high resolution images of any point on the globe several times a day.
The failure was a blow to European aerospace giant Airbus, the company that developed the program, whose services are sold to both companies and the military.
Satellites that bring in commercial revenue are usually covered. An industry insider said the Pleiades Neo 5 and 6 satellites were insured for 220 million euros ($233 million), potentially allowing Airbus to rebuild them.
Airbus did not comment when contacted by AFP.
The launch was originally scheduled for November 24.
However, it was delayed by a month due to a faulty device related to the payload handling unit, a type of nose cone, Arianespace’s Israel branch told AFP. The reason for the delay is said to be unrelated to Tuesday night’s failure.
Vega-C is the latest version of the Vega rocket system, with Tuesday marking the third failure of 21 launches since 2021.
Arianespace said the bug occurred at the Zefiro 40 stage, which was developed specifically for Vega-C, unlike many other parts of the launcher.
Vega-C’s main contractor is Italian aerospace company Avio, whose share price fell nearly 9% on Wednesday afternoon.
Avio CEO Giulio Ranzo said in a video statement that “an investigative committee will be launched by the European Space Agency and Arianespace, who will work with the Avio team to find out the root cause of the problem.” this failure”.
It is also a major setback for the European Space Agency (ESA), which aims to make Europe more competitive in the rapidly expanding satellite market.
Europe’s hopes had been placed on the Ariane 6 rocket, but the delay of its maiden flight to the end of 2023, originally scheduled for 2020, has shattered ESA’s expectations
Europe’s space sector was further weakened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which ended cooperation with Moscow.
In response to sanctions imposed by the European Union on Moscow, Russia suspended space launches from French Guiana with Soyuz rocket launchers and withdrew technical staff.
In the absence of an alternative, ESA was forced to turn to SpaceX to launch two science missions.