Late Monday night, a European rocket carrying two satellites failed during flight, leading to the loss of the payloads on board. It was the second major failure of this particular type of rocket within the last two years.
The rocket that failed is called Vega, one of the primary rockets developed by European launch provider Arianespace. The vehicle took off last night from Europe’s primary spaceport in French Guiana. On board the rocket was a Spanish Earth-imaging satellite called SEOSat-Ingenio, which would have been operated by the European Space Agency, and another imaging satellite from France called TARANIS.
At about eight minutes into the flight, the engine on Vega’s upper stage ignited. Right after that occurred, the rocket started to veer off course, and its altitude began dropping. After noticing the deviation, Arianespace tried to establish a signal with the rocket but ultimately couldn’t connect, indicating that Vega had fallen out of orbit, destroying the two payloads on board. After looking over the data, the company believes that there was an issue with the system that activates the upper stage engine.
My thoughts are with all teams in particular @CDTI and @CNES for their hard work on the two lost satellites. I will personally make sure that we together with @Arianespace fully understand the root cause. We bring #Vega back to the reliability of service it has shown since 2012.
— Jan Wörner (@janwoerner) November 17, 2020
“We can unfortunately confirm that the mission is lost,” Stéphane Israël, the CEO of Arianespace, said during a live stream of the launch last night. “You understand that I want to present my deepest apologies to our customers for this mission.” The rocket fell in an uninhabited area, according to Arianespace.
This is the second major failure of the Vega rocket in the last two years. In July 2019, a Vega rocket lost a satellite for the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, due to a structural failure that caused the vehicle to break up midflight. Arianespace returned the Vega rocket to flight just this year in September, launching a crop of 53 small satellites into orbit.