2 high-tech satellites lost after the latest ESA Vega C rocket launch failure

The ESA's latest launch failed Tuesday, losing its payload of high-tech satellites.
Christopher McFadden
The ESA's Vega C has sadly failed its latest launch.


Sadly, the highly anticipated second launch of Europe's brand-new Vega C rocket has failed.

As reported by Space.com, two satellites for Airbus' Pléiades Neo Earth-imaging constellation were carried by the medium-lift Vega C when it launched from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, at 8:47 pm EST (10:47 pm local time; 0147 GMT on December 21).

The P120C first stage of the rocket completed its task. However, the Zefiro 40, the second stage, apparently ran into some serious technical problems.

"Approximately 2 minutes and 27 seconds after liftoff, an anomaly occurred on the Zefiro 40, thus ending the Vega C mission," explained representatives of Arianespace (the French company that operates the Vega C) in an emailed statement on Tuesday night.

The Zefiro 40, in case you are unaware, is the main thruster rocket of the launch vehicle.

"Data analyses are in progress to determine the reasons for this failure," they added.

Developed for the European Space Agency by Arianespace, the four-stage, 115-foot-tall (35 meters) Vega rocket, which made its initial flight in 2012, has been upgraded to be more powerful. According to Arianespace, the Vega C can carry more payload into a 435-mile-high (700 km) sun-synchronous orbit than the Vega, which can only lift 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg).

Arianespace says that ESA's Vega-C will replace Vega and that it will be more competitive, perform better, and be able to carry more payload. This rocket, which launches from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, gives Europe more freedom in space by giving it more mission options, such as using the ESA's Space Rider reentry vehicle to return to Earth.

Two new solid propulsion stages, an upgraded upper stage, a new fairing, and new ground infrastructure are among the Vega-significant improvements over its predecessor, the Vega.

The lost satellites were destined to image the Earth from space

Pléiades Neo 5 and Pléiades Neo 6, the two spacecraft that failed on Tuesday and were lost, collectively weighed 4,359 pounds (1,977 kg). Should they have reached a sun-synchronous orbit, they would have finished Airbus' Pléiades Neo Earth-imaging constellation.

"The constellation is made of four identical satellites, built using the latest Airbus innovations and technological developments, and allows to image any point of the globe, several times per day, at 30-centimeter [12 inches] resolution," Arianespace wrote in a mission description of the Vega C.

"Highly agile and reactive, they can be tasked up to 15 minutes before acquisition and send the images back to Earth within the following hour," Arianespace added. "Smaller, lighter, more agile, accurate, and reactive than the competition, they are the first of their class whose capacity will be fully commercially available."

They are the first in their class whose full capacity will be available for sale. They are also the smallest, lightest, most agile, accurate, and responsive of their kind.

The Vega C had completed one flight before Tuesday. In July 2022, the rocket successfully launched the 650-pound (295 kg) LARES-2 satellite from the Italian Space Agency and six other CubeSats.

The launch date for Tuesday's mission was initially set for November 24. However, Arianespace put up the launch by over a month to replace problematic parts on the rocket, which included opening the Vega C's payload fairing at a Kourou processing facility.

More investigations will likely determine if the broken equipment played a role in the failed launch. On Wednesday, December 21, Arianespace plans to hold a media teleconference at 10 am Eastern Standard Time (15:00 GMT) to discuss what they know.

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