The loss of the Vega rocket is attributed to a carbon component.

The loss of the Vega rocket is attributed to a carbon component.
The loss of the Vega rocket is attributed to a carbon component.

Investigators have identified the cause of the failure that resulted in the loss of Vega-C, Europe’s leading small rocket, during a launch in December. The problem was traced to the protective material that lined the nozzle’s throat of one of the engines, which failed.

As a result, combustion pressure and acceleration decreased, causing the rocket to fail. When it became apparent that Vega-C would not reach orbit, a self-destruct command was issued, destroying the two high-resolution Earth imaging satellites that were onboard. The satellites had been built by Airbus.

On Friday, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that Vega-C would not be launched again until later this year due to the measures required to address the rocket’s failure.

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Vega-C will carry Sentinel-1C, an important radar spacecraft that will fill a significant gap in Europe’s observing capabilities when it does eventually launch.

Despite the delay, ESA Director General Dr Josef Aschbacher expressed confidence in the measures being taken to address the issue, which had been traced to a carbon-carbon throat insert in the Zefiro 40 rocket stage manufactured in Ukraine.

To ensure that the issue does not occur again, Italian rocket producer Avio will implement a program to ensure the highest quality of components throughout the Vega-C vehicle, including sourcing a new insert material and conducting a full-duration firing of a Zefiro 40 segment on the ground to test its robustness.

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Vega-C is an improved version of Vega, which has four stages that are ignited in sequence as the rocket ascends higher into the atmosphere.

The older version of Vega has a different second stage, which will enable it to fly earlier than Vega-C.

Stéphane Israël, the CEO of Arianespace, the company that operates the rocket, said that Vega is scheduled to launch by the end of the summer with two primary satellite passengers and several smaller satellites.

The limited number of rocket rides available in Europe has been a concern for satellite operators, and the failure of Vega-C in December has made it even more complicated.

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Due to the war in Ukraine and western sanctions, Russian Soyuz rockets are no longer available on the market, and the Ariane-5 rocket will be retired after two more flights this year. The follow-up, Ariane-6, is not yet ready for launch.

As a result of the shortage of available launches, the European Space Agency has purchased two American launches for its Euclid telescope and Hera asteroid missions, which will take place in 2023 and 2024, respectively, using SpaceX Falcon-9 rockets.


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