Arianespace Vega launch fails, Emirati satellite lost

Space

WASHINGTON — The fifteenth launch of a European Vega rocket ended in failure July 10, resulting in the loss of an imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates. 

The Vega rocket, built by Italian manufacturer Avio, lifted off at 9:53 p.m. Eastern from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on the northern coast of South America. 

Telemetry data indicated a deviation from the rocket’s intended course around its second minute of flight. The rocket left its intended course during its second-stage burn.

Telemetry data showed Vega off-course minutes before Arianespace confirmed mission failure. Credit: Arianespace webcast.

Arianespace of Evry, France, which markets the Vega rocket, confirmed mission failure nine minutes after liftoff. 

“About 2 minutes after liftoff, around the [Zefiro]-23 ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s executive vice president of missions, operations and purchasing, said during the launch webcast. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express my deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.” 

The failure is the first for Vega, a light-lift vehicle designed to launch around 1,500 kilograms to low Earth orbit. The four-stage launcher has been in service in 2012, and is Arianespace’s newest rocket. 

Falcon Eye 1 was a 1,200-kilogram, dual-purpose satellite designed to provide imagery for the commercial market as well as the UAE Armed Forces. Built by Airbus Defence and Space with an imaging payload from Thales Alenia Space, the satellite draws on technology from France’s high-resolution Pleiades imaging constellation. 

From its targeted 611-kilometer orbit, Falcon Eye 1 was intended to image the Earth in high resolution as it orbited 15 times a day. 

A second satellite, Falcon Eye 2, was scheduled to launch on another Vega rocket late this year, though that timeline is now likely to change.

Arianespace had planned four Vega launches this year. The first took place March 21 with the Italian Space Agency’s PRISMA satellite. The next planned after Falcon Eye 1 was the Small Spacecraft Mission Service rideshare, previously slated for September, carrying 42 satellites. 

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