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Vega Booster Fails for Second Time in Three Launches

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 16, 2020
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Vega flight 17 lifts off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Nov. 16, 2020. (Credit: Arianespace webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

KOUROU, French Guiana — Europe’s Vega booster failed on Monday night for the second time in the last three launch attempts.

The flight of the solid-fuel rocket appeared to go nominally until the first of four planned burn of the AVUM fourth stage. At that point, the stage deviated from its planned trajectory.

“We can unfortunately confirm that the mission is lost,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said after a tracking station failed to receive any signals from the AVUM stage or its two payloads.

Vega was carrying the SEOSat-Ingenio Earth observation satellite for the Spanish Center for Development of Industry Technology. Airbus Defense and Space built the spacecraft.

The other payload was the Taranis environmental satellite, which was designed to study the transfer of energy between Earth’s atmosphere and space above thunderstorms. The French space agency CNES developed the spacecraft.

Vega’s first three stages are made in Italy. The AVUM fourth stage that experienced the anomaly is produced in Ukraine.

Vega has 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.