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VegaC Inaugural Launch Ends In Failure, Payload Lost

VegaC Inaugural Launch Ends In Failure, Payload Lost

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Ashe S.

Ashe S.

Wed Dec 21 2022Written by Ashe S.

Earlier tonight, a major issue appeared in the second stage of ArianeSpace’s Vega C rocket during the launch of the Pléiades Neo 5 and 6. While no official issue has been outlined, ArianeSpace has attributed the failure to an underpressure in the Zefiro 40, followed by a deviation of course.

Vega C

Vega C is a 4 stage rocket developed by ArianeSpace and AVIO, and is launched out of ArianeSpace’s Kourou launch facility in French Guiana. Vega C is a variant of the solid propellant Vega rocket family, with the inaugural launch of Vega in February of 2012. Vega C is an evolved block of the older Vega rocket, with all 3 solid stages undergoing major updates and improvements, and sees the addition of a new 4th stage, with reignitable liquid propulsion stage to perform accurate and precise in-space maneuvering

The failed stage of the rocket is the Zefiro 40 Solid Rocket Motor, the second of three stages. Provided by AVIO, an Italian aerospace company, the Zefiro 40 was expected to burn for a full duration of 93 seconds for its flight powering two Pléiades NEO observation satellites into space. 

Pléiades NEO 5 & 6

Pléiades NEO is a constellation of 4 satellites in Sun Synchronous Orbit, all fitted with high resolution remote sensing instruments with 30cm resolution. Each satellite is on a 12 hour orbital period, being able to track 2 full passes of earth in a single day. All 4 satellites work in tandem and are able to complete a full pass of earth in only 26 days, and can provide applications for defense, security and crisis management, urban planning, maritime, agriculture, forestry and environment. 


Shortly after the shutdown of the P120 first stage, the velocity of the rocket remained stagnant and the rocket began to follow a ballistic trajectory, signaling a failure of the second stage. This “Very large anomaly:, as put by the CEO of ArianeSpace on tonight's launch stream, put the rocket and its payload on a deviation of course as it flew northward towards the island of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. From the data visible on screen, we were able to see that the Zefiro 40 burned to completion, before all the following stages and the payload fairings were intentionally separated before impact in the Caribbean.

The splashdown occurred safely in the Caribbean at T+411 seconds from liftoff, with the majority of debris likely landing approximately 800 miles east of the British Virgin Islands and 500 miles north east of Barbados

Post-Launch Briefing

During an online media briefing on the 21st December, Avio, ESA and Arianespace representatives were present to give a further update on the failure. Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace confirmed that Ariane 5 and 6 are not impacted by what has happened with Vega-C, and Ariane 6 is still scheduled for launch in 2023. He offered his deepest apologies to Airbus for the loss of their two payloads, Arianespace is responsible and together they will commit to implement a safe return to flight.

Pierra-Yves Tisser, Chief Technical officer of Arianespace said that lift-off was nominal, and the first stage performed and seperated as expected, and the second stage, Zefiro-40 ignited nominally. Seven seconds after second-stage ignition, a pressure decrease of up to 200 hectopastals was noted, and several electronic units were instantly lost. As the vehicle trajectory degraded, the launch operator decided to destroy the launcher. It splashed down into the International Maritime Zone, and they will recover all data today.

Stefano Bianchi, Head of flight programmes at ESA said they are focussing on the failure of the second stage - they had improved the propellant mass of Zefiro-40 and was ground qualified. The previous launch was perfect, so it's fundamental to work the issues and come back with a new, working mission. An independent review will begin tomorrow to find the root cause and create a safer launch vehicle.

Finally, Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio, said that Avio takes full responsibility for the failure as a private contractor. They mentioned that Vega-C is an entirely new launcher, and the second stage was qualified 5 months ago in it's maiden flight. They are 100% confident they can restore flight worthiness and will provide full commitment to support the independent review and follow advice to improve flight worthiness. They also offered their deepest apologies to Airbus.