The second mission of Europe’s new Vega C rocket did not go as planned.
The medium-lift Vega C took off from Europe space port in Kourou, French Guiana on Tuesday (December 20) at 8:47 pm EST (10:47 pm local time; 01:47 GMT on December 21), carrying two satellites for Airbus’ Pléiades Neo Earth imaging constellation .
The rocket’s first stage, known as the P120C, did its job. But the second stage, called the Zefiro 40, did not.
“Approximately 2 minutes and 27 seconds after liftoff, an anomaly occurred on Zefiro 40, bringing the Vega C mission to an end,” representatives of Arianespace, the French company that operates Vega C, said in an emailed statement. email Tuesday night. “Data analysis is ongoing to determine the reasons for this failure.”
Related: The history of rockets.
The Vega C was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and is operated by Arianespace.
The 115-foot-tall (35-meter) four-stage stage rocket it is a more powerful version of the Vega, which first flew in 2012. The Vega C can carry about 5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms) of payload to a 435-mile-high (700-kilometer) solar-synchronous orbit, compared to 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg) for the older rocket, according to Arianespace (opens in a new tab).
The two spacecraft that were lost due to Tuesday’s failure, Pléiades Neo 5 and Pléiades Neo 6, together weighed 4,359 pounds (1,977 kg). The duo were en route to sun-synchronous orbit, where they would have completed Airbus’ Pléiades Neo Earth imaging constellation.
“The constellation is made up of four identical satellites, built with the latest Airbus innovations and technological developments, and allows images of any point on the globe to be obtained, several times a day, at a distance of 30 centimeters. [12 inches] resolution,” Arianespace wrote in a Vega C mission description (opens in a new tab).
“Highly agile and reactive, they can be assigned up to 15 minutes before acquisition and imaged back to Earth within the next hour,” added Arianespace. “Smaller, lighter, more agile, precise and responsive than the competition, they are the first of their kind to make their capability fully commercially available.”
The Vega C had a flight under its belt before Tuesday. In July 2022, the rocket successfully raised LARES-2, a 650-pound (295 kg) satellite developed by the Italian Space Agency, as well as six ride-along cubesats.
Originally, Tuesday’s mission was supposed to take off on November 1. 24. But Arianespace delayed it by almost a month to replace faulty equipment on the rocket, a process that required Vega C payload fairing opening (opens in a new tab) at a processing plant in Kourou.
Presumably, subsequent analysis will try to determine if faulty equipment had anything to do with the launch failure. We should learn more on Wednesday (December 21); Arianespace plans to hold a media conference call at 10 am EST (1500 GMT).
Mike Wall is the author of “out there (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Espaciodotcom (opens in a new tab) or in Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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