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Launch Roundup – Europe’s Booster Blues Worsen with New Vega-C Delay

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 3, 2023
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Launch Roundup – Europe’s Booster Blues Worsen with New Vega-C Delay
Vega-C launch.
Image credit: Arianespace.

Welcome to the Launch Roundup! In this edition, we explore why Europe’s Vega-C rocket won’t fly for another year, preview SpaceX’s launch of NASA’s next asteroid mission, and take a look at the busy launch week ahead.

Booster Blues

Europe’s rocket woes keep getting worse. Officials announced on Monday (October 2) that the Vega-C rocket won’t fly until the fourth quarter of 2024 due to the need to redesign the motor nozzle on the Zefiro40 second stage.

The failure of the nozzle’s carbon-carbon throat insert led to the loss of a Vega-C rocket during the booster’s second flight on December 21, 2022. Investigators concluded that the carbon-carbon material supplied by Yuzhnoye of Ukraine did not meet design specifications, though Yuzhnoye disputed the claim.

The Ukrainian throat insert was replaced by one supplied by the ArianeGroup. However, an anomaly occurred when a Zefiro40 motor was tested with the new insert on June 28, 2023.

“The Independent Enquiry Commission concluded that in the current design of the nozzle, the combination of the geometry of the carbon-carbon throat insert and the different thermo-mechanical properties of the new material caused progressive damage of other adjacent nozzle parts and a progressive degradation eventually leading to the nozzle’s failure,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a press release. “This phenomenon is not linked to those observed on VV22 [December 2022 flight] with the previous carbon-carbon material.”

Engineers will need to redesign the nozzle and conduct two successful tests before Vega-C can fly again – something now expected during the fourth quarter of 2024.

Ariane 6 launch with solid-fuel booster separation
Artist’s impression of Ariane 6 rocket in flight. Image credit: Arianespace.

Vega-C’s grounding and the retirement of Ariane 5 in July leaves Europe short of launch vehicles. The maiden flight of Ariane 6 has been delayed until sometime next year, as testing on the booster continues this Fall. A joint European-Russian program to launch medium-lift Soyuz rockets was suspended after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Vega Launch
October 2023

THEOS-2Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)Earth observation
TRITONTaiwan Space AgencyMeteorology
ANSER-LeaderNational Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)Earth observation
ANSER-Follower 1National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)Earth observation
ANSER-Follower 2National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)Earth observation
CSC-1ISISPACEPayload hosting
CSC-2ISISPACEPayload hosting
ESTCube-2Estonian Student Satellite Foundation/Tartu ObservatoryTechnology demonstration
MACSATOQ TechnologyInternet of Things
NESSCentre National d’études Spatiales/U-SpaceTechnology demonstration
PRETTYEuropean Space Agency/Graz University of TechnologyEarth observation
PROBA V-CCEuropean Space Agency/AerospacelabEarth observation
Source: Wikipedia

The penultimate launch of Europe’s only operational rocket, the smaller Vega booster, is scheduled for October 7. Vega will launch an Earth observation satellite for Thailand, a weather satellite for Taiwan, and 10 CubeSats for various European customers. There will be one more launch of the Vega rocket in 2024 before the booster is retired.

Startup companies in France, Germany, and Scotland are developing new launch vehicles. However, the boosters are all designed to launch small satellites, not the larger ones launched by Ariane 6, Vega-C, Vega, and Soyuz rockets.

Falcon Heavy launches in January 2023.
Falcon Heavy launches in January 2023. Image credit: SpaceX.

Upcoming Launches

NASA delayed the launch of the Psyche asteroid mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy by a week to October 12. The spacecraft will explore the metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche that orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

“The change allows the NASA team to complete verifications of the parameters used to control the Psyche spacecraft’s nitrogen cold gas thrusters,” NASA said in a mission update. “These thrusters are used to point the vehicle in support of science, power, thermal and other demands, such as spacecraft orientation and momentum management. The parameters were recently adjusted in response to updated, warmer temperature predictions for these thrusters. Operating the thrusters within temperature limits is essential to ensure the long-term health of the units.”

Upcoming Launches

The launch is scheduled for 10:16 AM EDT (14:16 UTC) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA will broadcast the launch on NASA TV and stream it at and

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Oct. 4Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 6SpaceShipTwo – Virgin Galactic
Ron Rosano, Trevor Beattie, Namira SalimSpace tourismSpaceport America
Oct. 6Atlas V – ULAKuiperSat-1 – Kuiper SystemsTech demo (communictions)Cape Canaveral
KuiperSat-2 – Kuiper SystemsTech demo (communications)
Oct. 7Falcon 9 – SpaceX21 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsVandenberg
Oct. 7Vega – ArianespaceTHEOS-2 – GISTDA+Earth observationKourou
TRITON – NSPO^Meteorology
10 CubeSatsMultiple
Oct. 9Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 12Falcon Heavy – SpaceXPsyche – NASAAsteroid orbiterKennedy
Oct. 15Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 19Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 22Falcon 9 – SpaceXO3b mPOWER 5 – SESCommunicationsCape Canaveral
O3b mPOWER 6 – SESCommunications
+ Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)
^ Taiwan Space Agency
Source: Wikipedia

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V will launch a pair of test satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper broadband constellation. Amazon has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch 3,236 Kuiper satellites.

Virgin Galactic will fly its fourth commercial suborbital flight on October 6. Customers on the space tourism flight include Ron Rosano of the United States, Trevor Beattie of the United Kingdom, and Namira Salim of Pakistan. Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses will join them in the passenger cabin. VSS Unity will be piloted by Kelly Latimer and CJ Sturckow.

Starlink satellites being deployed. Image credit: SpaceX
Starlink satellites being deployed. Image credit: SpaceX.

Recent Launches

Iran conducted a rare launch when a Qased rocket orbited the Noor-3 reconnaissance satellite on September 27. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps conducted the flight.

Recent Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Sept. 26Long March 4C – CASC*Yaogan 33-04 – CAS+Earth observationJiuquan
Sept. 27Qased – IRGC^Noor-3 – IRGC^ReconnaissanceShahrud
Sept. 29Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
+ Chinese Academy of Sciences
^ Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Source: Wikipedia

Qased is a three-stage rocket capable of placing up to 50 kg (110 lb) into orbit. The booster uses a liquid fuel first stage powered by unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide. The second and third stages use solid fuel. Qased has been successful on all three of its flights.

SpaceX launched 22 more Starlink broadband satellites into orbit on September 29. Forty-three of SpaceX’s 70 launches this year have been dedicated to orbiting Starlink spacecraft. The company has now launched 5,200 Starlink satellites since February 2018.

Starlink Launches

+ Does not include two secondary payloads for other companies.
^ Includes 110 dedicated launches, two Transporter rideshare missions, and two test satellites as launched as secondary payloads.
* Does not include 16 secondary payloads from other companies.

Launches by Nation

Orbital launches through October 2, 2023.
Orbital launches through October 2, 2023. Image credit: Parabolic Arc.

Orbital launches for the year now total 160, with 151 successes and nine failures. If the pace seen in the first three quarters continues, the world will finish up with 213 launches in 2023. There were 186 launch attempts last year.

Led by SpaceX’s 70 launches, US companies have made more than half of all attempts worldwide. China is in second place with 45 launch attempts, followed by Russia with 13 launches.

A Falcon 9 launches Europe's Euclid space telescope on July 1, 2023.
A Falcon 9 launches Europe’s Euclid space telescope on July 1, 2023. Image credit: SpaceX webcast.

Launches by Company/Agency

SpaceX has placed more than 1,900 payloads into orbit this year. Elon Musk has said the company will increase its flight cadence to 10 per month during the last three months of 2023 in order to meet the goal of 100 launches.

Launches by Company/Agency

SpaceX (USA)691701,93412*
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)310311090
Roscosmos (Russia)10010550
Rocket Lab (USA)718191
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)707510
Galactic Energy (China)516191
ExPace (China)404140
Strategic Rocket Forces (Russia)30330
Arianespace (Europe)20230
CAS Space (China)101260
United Launch Alliance (USA)20240
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan)20230
Korea Aerospace Research Institute (South Korea)10171^
Northrop Grumman (USA)10140
Firefly Aerospace (USA)10110
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps10110
Israel Aerospace Industries10110
Space Pioneer (China)10110
i-space (China)10100
LandSpace (China)10100
Virgin Orbit+ (USA)01109
ABL Space Systems (USA)01102
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency01101
National Aerospace Development Administration (North Korea)02202
Relativity Space (USA)01100
* Space tug and deployment failures unrelated to launch vehicle
^ Deployment failure
+ Company defunct
Source: Wikipedia

The government-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) is in second place with 31 launches. Roscosmos has conducted 10 of Russia’s 13 launches. No other launch provider has reached double digits.

Electron launches from New Zealand on July 17, 2023.
Electron launches from New Zealand on July 17, 2023.

Launches by Booster

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has flown 66 times without a failure. The nearest competitor is the CASC’s Long March 2 family of rockets.

Launches by Booster

Launch VehicleCompany/AgencySuccessesFailuresTotal
Falcon 9SpaceX66066
Long March 2C, 2DChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.14014
Soyuz-2.1a, 2.1bRoscosmos, Russia Strategic Rocket Forces10010
ElectronRocket Lab718
Long March 4CChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.606
Ceres-1, 1SGalactic Energy516
Long March 3B/EChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.404
Kuaizhou 1AExPace404
Falcon HeavySpaceX303
PSLVIndian Space Research Organisation303
H-IIAMitsubishi Heavy Industries202
Long March 6, 6AChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.204
Long March 7, 7AChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.204
Ariane 5Arianespace202
LVM IIIIndian Space Research Organisation202
AntaresNorthrop Grumman101
Atlas VUnited Launch Alliance101
Delta IV HeavyUnited Launch Alliance101
Firefly AlphaFirefly Aerospace101
GSLV Mk IIIndian Space Research Organisation101
Hyperbola 1i-space101
Lijian-1CAS Space101
Long March 2FChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
Long March 4BChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
Long March 11China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
NuriKorea Aerospace Research Institute101
QasedIslamic Revolutionary Guard Corps101
Shavit 2Israel Defense Forces101
SSLVIndian Space Research Organisation101
Soyuz-2.1vRussia Strategic Rocket Forces101
Tianlong-2^Space Pioneer101
Chollima-1^National Aerospace Development Administration022
H3^Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency011
LauncherOne*Virgin Orbit+011
RS1^ABL Space Systems011
Starship/Super Heavy^SpaceX011
Terran 1*^Relativity Space011
^ Maiden flight
* Launch vehicle retired
+ Company defunct

Launches by Spaceport

Florida remains the busiest launch location in the world with 52 flights through the third quarter of 2023. If the current trend continues, the state will end up hosting 69 launches this year. Vandenberg Space Force Base in California is also having a busy year with 21 launches.

Launches by Spaceport

Launch SitesSuccessesFailuresTotal
Cape Canaveral41142
Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport303
Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska011
Yellow Sea101
Satish Dhawan707
Guiana Space Centre (French Guiana)202
Naro (South Korea)101
Sohae (North Korea)022
Palmchim (Israel)101
Cornwall^ (UK)011
* Spaceport leased to Russia
+ Rocket Lab Electron launches
^ Final LauncherOne flight, Virgin Orbit defunct

Source: Wikipedia

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center leads all Chinese spaceports with 25 launches. The Xichang and Taiyuan centers are neck and neck for second place with nine and eight flights, respectively. India’s Satish Dhawan Space Center and Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan have hosted seven launches apiece.

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