A fault in a Vega rocket caused the loss of the Falcon Eye 1 satellite shortly after its launch

The Falcon Eye 1 satellite blasting off atop a Vega rocket (Image courtesy Arianespace. All rights reserved)
The Falcon Eye 1 satellite blasting off atop a Vega rocket (Image courtesy Arianespace. All rights reserved)

A few hours ago a Vega rocket was launched from the Kourou base, in French Guiana, to deploy the United Arab Emirates’ Falcon Eye 1 satellite. About two minutes after the launch, immediately after what was supposed to be the second stage’s ignition there was an anomaly that caused the mission’s failure. This is the first failure for the Vega rocket after 14 successes.

Arianespace is a very reliable aerospace company and the Vega rocket, specializing in the launch of small satellites, successfully completed 14 missions since 2012. In this 15th mission, called VV15, the aim was to put the United Arab Emirates’ Falcon Eye 1 military satellite into orbit but this time something went wrong.

No details were released about the mission’s events and Arianespace stated only that an independent inquiry commission will be set up in the coming days to investigate the causes of the VV15 mission’s failure.

What we know from Arianespace webcast is that the Vega rocket regularly blasted off and the first stage seems to have completed its task without problems in the first two minutes of the mission. The separation of the second stage was confirmed but there was an anomaly at the time the Zefiro 23 engine, the second stage one, was supposed to ignite.

At the mission control center the second stage ignition was announced but at that point it started deviating from the scheduled trajectory. The bottom image (Courtesy Arianespace. All rights reserved) shows in green the scheduled trajectory for the VV15 mission and in yellow the actual trajectory.

Telemetry data shows a slowdown after the second stage separated. One hypothesis is that the Zefiro 23 engine didn’t really ignite but that must be verified by the inquiry commission. Two more launches of the Vega rocket were scheduled in the coming months, including that of the Falcon Eye 2 satellite, but only after the results of the investigation it will be possible to understand if there will be schedule changes. Rocket launches may now seem routine but even a reliable carrier like Vega can have a fault.

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