Thankfully, news of this sort, regarding a mission failure, is a rarity and unfortunate in many ways. Vega launched and appeared to be flying smoothly, but after eight minutes, issues occurred that resulted in the loss of satellites for Spain and France.
The Arianespace Vega VV17 mission launched on Tuesday, November 16, from the Guyana Space Center and was carrying two payloads: SEOSAT-Ingenio, an Earth-science observation satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA) and TARANIS for France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES).
The Vega launch vehicle lifted off as scheduled. The first three stages functioned nominally until the ignition of the AVUM upper stage, eight minutes after departure from the launch pad. At that time, a degraded trajectory was detected, followed by a loss of control of the vehicle and the subsequent loss of the mission. The launcher fell in a completely uninhabited area close to the drop zone planned for the Zefiro 9 stage.
There will be research and investigations, and hopefully when the final analysis is provided the industry will be that much the wiser for it. The following is the brief announcement just released by Arianespace.
“Eight minutes after liftoff of Vega mission VV17, following the first ignition of the engine of the Avum upper stage, a deviation of trajectory was identified, entailing the loss of the mission,” stated the company. “Telemetry data analyses are in progress to determine the cause of this failure.“
“We can now confirm that the mission is lost,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said during the launch webcast.
“Eight minutes after the liftoff, and immediately after the ignition of the engine of the fourth stage of Vega, the Avum stage, we have observed the degradation of the trajectory,” Israël said. “It means that the speed was not nominal anymore.
“I want to present my deepest apologies to my customers for this mission,” Israël said. “Arianespace is presenting its apologies and we have now to analyze and to understand.”
Initial investigations, conducted overnight with the available data, a problem related to the integration of the fourth-stage AVUM nozzle activation system is the most likely cause of the loss of control of the launcher.
In accordance with their standard protocols, Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) will set up an independent Inquiry Commission jointly chaired by Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transport at ESA, and Stéphane Israël, Arianespace Chief Executive Officer, on November 18.
The Commission will provide detailed evidence to explain why steps were not taken to identify and correct the integration error. The Commission will formulate a road map for the Vega’s return to flight under conditions of complete reliability. Arianespace and ESA will jointly present the findings of this commission.
Arianespace expresses its deepest apologies to the clients and the satellite manufacturers involved in this mission.
This is the second major malfunction of the Vega rocket in two years.
In July 2019, a Vega rocket failed during the launch of a satellite for the United Arab Emirates. A subsequent investigation found that a faulty motor on the booster was to blame.
This Vega flight would have celebrated a first — the two passengers on Arianespace’s upcoming Vega flight would have focused on the Earth and its dynamic atmosphere above thunderstorms .
The mission was to release the two European spacecraft into Sun-Synchronous Orbits (SSO). Both satellites would have operated in similar orbits at an altitude of approximately 700 km.
The satellites’ arrangement placed SEOSAT-Ingenio atop a dispenser system called VESPA (Vega Secondary Payload Adaptor), produced by Airbus in Spain for Vega launcher prime contractor Avio. Positioned inside the VESPA structure is TARANIS. =
The following information was provided before the failure…
To be deployed 54 minutes after Vega’s liftoff, SEOSAT-Ingenio is the first Spanish Earth observation satellite – designed to provide information for national applications in cartography, land use, urban management, water management, environmental monitoring, risk management and security.
SEOSAT-Ingenio was built by an industrial consortium of Spanish space-sector companies led by Airbus Defence and Space. It is being launched for the European Space Agency (ESA) at the benefit of Spain’s CDTI (Center for Development of Industrial Technology).
The Spanish Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA), will own and operate the satellite — which has an estimated liftoff mass of 788 kg.
In a shift from typical payload processing practices at the Spaceport, SEOSAT-Ingenio has undergone its preparations with a see-through protective cover made of conductive material, which ensures an extra-high degree of cleanliness.
Launched for the French CNES space agency as its customer and spacecraft prime contractor, TARANIS is the first satellite designed to observe the mysterious red sprites, blue jets, elves and sprite halos that occur at altitudes of 20 to 100 km. above thunderstorms. More formally known as transient luminous events (TLEs), they are categorized as luminous, radiative and electromagnetic phenomena.
During the course of its mission, TARANIS will overfly thousands of transient luminous events – detecting these occurrences and recording their luminous and radiative signatures at high resolution. In addition to its role as a fundamental research satellite, data on Earth’s thermal and climate mechanisms to be gathered by TARANIS could serve more operational applications such climatology and weather forecasting.
Liftoff mass of the spacecraft, which is part of CNES’ family of Myriade small satellites, is estimated at 175 kg. The spacecraft is named TARANIS after the Celtic god of thunder and lightning, and also is the acronym of: Tool for the Analysis of RAdiation from lightNIng and Sprites.
Flight VV17 will be Arianespace’s seventh mission this year using members of its launcher family. It follows three previous flights in 2020 with Ariane 5, two using Soyuz, and Vega’s September success that validated the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) shared launch concept.