Italian Space Agency Shifts Satellite Launch From Vega-C to SpaceX Falcon 9

COSMO SkyMed satellite (Credit: ASI)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Citing delays with Europe’s new Vega-C rocket, two Vega booster failures and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) has shifted the launch of the second COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation (CSG-2) Earth observation satellite to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

“The delays, postponing the Vega-C Maiden Flight to Q1 2022, with a consequent tight schedule of launches in 2022, made the  launch period of CSG-2 no longer compatible with the needs of the COSMO Mission. Since Arianespace backlog was already full on Soyuz and Ariane systems in 2021, it was not possible to have a European back-up solution compliant with the CSG-2 schedule, thus an alternative solution with the US provider SpaceX has been adopted allowing to keep the CSG-2 launch within the current year,” ASI said on its website.

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Launch 2020: Europe’s Ambitions Frustrated by Pandemic, Booster Failure

The Ariane 5 for Flight VA251 departs the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch zone with its EUTELSAT KONNECT and GSAT-30 satellite passengers. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a tough one for Europe in terms of launches. The COVID-19 pandemic closed the Guiana Space Centre for extended periods. And the most troubled of the three rockets launched from the spaceport had another bad day.

Despite the problems, there were seven launches from French Guiana in 2020, with six successes and one failure. Five of the flights involved European rockets, and two others were Russian Soyuz boosters.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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Investigation Concludes Crossed Wires Caused Loss of Vega Booster, Satellites

Vega takes off on its 17th flight on Nov. 16, 2020. (Credit: Arianespace webcast)

PARIS, 17 December 2020 — On Tuesday, November 17, Arianespace announced the loss of the Vega VV17 mission, which was carrying two payloads, SEOSAT-Ingenio, an Earth-science observation satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA), on behalf of Spain’s Center for Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), and TARANIS for France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES).

The first three stages functioned nominally until the ignition of the AVUM upper stage, eight minutes after liftoff. At that time, a degraded trajectory was detected, followed by a loss of control of the vehicle and the subsequent loss of the mission.

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Inverted Cables Caused Vega Rocket to Fail

Vega takes off on its 17th flight on Nov. 16, 2020. (Credit: Arianespace webcast)

Engineers say they have identified what caused the loss of a European Vega rocket and its two satellites on Monday evening. The BBC reported:

The problem was traced to the actuators that change the direction of thrust on the Vega’s upper-stage engine.

When they received commands from the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) system, they turned the motor’s nozzle counter to the intended direction.

Roland Lagier, from Arianespace, the company that markets and launches Vega rockets, said cabling on the thrust vector control system must have been inverted when the upper-stage engine was assembled.

“This was of course a production and quality issue. It was a human error and not a design one,” the chief technical officer told reporters.

Lost in the failure were Spain’s SeoSat-Ingenio Earth observation satellite and France’s Taranis research spacecraft, which was to study high-atmosphere lightning.

Vega has compiled a record of 15 successes and two failures since its maiden flight on Feb. 13, 2012. The first failure occurred during the 15th flight on July 11, 2019. An investigation determined the most likely cause was a thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the Z23 second stage motor.

Vega made a successful return to flight on Sept. 3, 2020, by launching 53 small satellites on its first rideshare mission.