Arianespace, a European satellite launch company, lost its Vega rocket shortly after launch. The four-stage Vega rocket, jointly developed by France and Italy, lifted off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:52 PM EST (01:52 GMT, November 17), with two satellites onboard—one French and the other Spanish. Things appeared to go well in the initial stages of the flight but as the rocket neared the eight-minute mark, things started to go downhill as the rocket showed signs of going off-course. Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, later delivered the official statement, confirming that the mission is lost.
Here’s the full statement from Arianespace chief executive Stéphane Israël.— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) November 17, 2020
Teams didn't receive any signals from the Vega rocket or its two payloads during a recent ground station pass, indicating the launcher did not reach orbit on tonight’s flight.https://t.co/jkbvALNqvP pic.twitter.com/XICLawqFz8
The problem, which is yet to identified, occurred shortly after the Vega rocket ignited its upper stage, and veered off course, indicating that the speed was not nominal anymore, apprised Israël. The rocket did not make its next expected contact with ground stations either.
The Vega 9 launch system had two satellites on board that it was expected to deploy. The first one was the Spanish Earth-watching satellite called SEOSAT-Ingenio, which came under the envelope of the European Space Agency's (ESA) plan to study our planet in greater detail. The second one was the French TARANIS satellite for the country's space Agency CNES. It was tasked to study visible-light flashes, including gamma-ray flashes, sprites, blue jets, and elves over the next four years.
"I want to present my deepest apologies to my customers for this mission," Israël continued. "Arianespace is presenting its apologies and we have now to analyze and to understand." This failed launch is Arianespace's second in the span of two years. The last one came last year in July in which another Vega rocket failed during the launch due to a faulty motor on the booster.
Whether this will be the case this time around as well, remains to be seen. Extrapolating from the loss of nominal speed, it seems that the upper stage did not produce the thrust required to keep the Vega on-course. But of course, we cannot say anything until the formal investigation committee passes a verdict on the incident and reveals its findings.
For the complete coverage of the event, you may check out this webcast from Arianespace.