- Parabolic Arc
- November 29, 2023
Vega-C Launch Failure Ends Frustrating Year for Europe
The failure of a Vega-C booster with two Earth observation satellites aboard on Tuesday ended a frustrating year for Europe that saw six joint launches with Russia canceled, a six-year delay in the ExoMars rover mission, and the maiden launch of Ariane 6 postponed until late next year.
“Approximately 2 minutes and 27 seconds after liftoff an anomaly occurred on the Zefiro 40 [motor] thus ending the Vega C mission. Data analyses are in progress to determine the reasons of this failure,” Arianespace tweeted.
Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said an “under pressure” condition was detected in the second stage Zefiro 40 solid-fuel motor followed by a deviation in the booster’s trajectory. Airbus Defence and Space’s Pléiades Neo 5 and Pléiades Neo 6 Earth observation satellites were lost in the accident.
It was the second launch of Vega-C, which successfully orbited seven satellites on its maiden flight in July. Vega-C is an upgraded version of the Vega booster, with a payload capacity of 2,300 kg to a 700 km high polar orbit. Vega can place 1,430 kg into the same orbit.
Vega has a record of 18 successes and two failures. Vega-C has one success and one failure.
A Frustrating Year
Arianespace ended the year with four successful launches of European boosters and one failure. Arianespace also launched a Russian Soyuz ST-B rocket with 34 OneWeb broadband satellites aboard from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana under an agreement with Russia.
Europe’s Spaceport, French Guiana
|Launch Vehicle||Successes||Failures||Total Launches||Satellites Lanched||Satellites Lost|
Arianespace was to have overseen the launch of six more Soyuz boosters carrying OneWeb satellites this year. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February resulted in the cancellation of those launches. OneWeb subsequently booked three SpaceX Falcon 9 and two ISRO GSLV Mk III launches to complete deployment of its 648-satellite broadband constellation.
The Ukraine invasion also resulted in the cancelation of the launch of ESA’s ExoMars rover aboard a Russian Proton launch vehicle. Launch of the mission has been delayed until 2028 due to the need to find a replacement for the Russian supplied descent module and the fact that favorable launch windows occur only every two years.
Meanwhile, the maiden launch of the new Ariane 6 booster has been delayed until the fourth quarter of 2023 due to technical problems. The rocket will replace the Ariane 5 launcher, which has two flights left next year before it is retired.
ESA has decided to launch two missions on SpaceX Falcon 9 boosters due to the end of cooperation with Russia on Soyuz launches and the delays with Ariane 6.
SpaceX will launch the Euclid astrophysics mission in 2023 and the Hera asteroid mission by the end of 2024. Euclid was to have launched on a Soyuz booster, Hera on Ariane 6.
Hera will visit the Didymos asteroid and its Dimorphos moonlet. NASA’s NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission collided with Dimorphos in September in the world’s first planetary protection test.
Vega-C’s successful maiden in launch in July carried a main payload and six CubeSats. The LARES-2 satellite was tracked by ground stations using lasers. The mission is designed to measure the frame-dragging effect, a distortion of space-time caused by the rotation of a massive body such as Earth as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Vega-C’s six CubeSats included:
- AstroBio CubeSat (Italy) — test a solution for detecting biomolecules in space
- Greencube (Italy) — grow plants in microgravity
- ALPHA (Italy) — study phenomena related to Earth’s magnetosphere
- Trisat-R (Slovenia) — operate an artificial intelligence system in the harsh radiation environment of the Van Allen Belts
- MTCube-2 (France) — characterize how radiation affects different types of memories, and
- Celesta (France) – study the effects of radiation on electronics.
Three Ariane 5 rockets launched five communications satellites, including:
- MEASAT Global Berhad’s MEASAT-3D, built by Airbus Defence and Space
- Indian Space Research Organisation’s GSAT-24
- Intelsat’s Galaxy 35 and Galaxy 36, built by Maxar Technologies, and
- Eutelsat Konnect VHTS, built by Thales Alenia Space.
EUMETSAT’s MTG-I1 meteorology satellite was launched aboard the final Ariane 5 launch of the year. Thales Alenia Space was the prime contractor. OHB-System GmbH supplied the satellite bus.
Virgin Orbit was to have conducted a launch from Spaceport Cornwall in England this year. However, regulatory delays and technical issues forced the postponement of the launch until January.