Less than 24 hours after the loss of two satellites aboard an Arianespace Vega rocket, the French launch provider has identified the likely cause of the failure.
The Vega VV17 mission was launched from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana at 01:52 UTC on November 17. The mission carried the earth-science observation satellites SEOSAT-Ingenio for the European Space Agency and TARANIS for the French space agency CNES.
The VV17 mission was just the second launched aboard a Vega rocket since the vehicle’s last failure, which resulted in the loss of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces FalconEye1 Earth observation satellite in July 2019.
Although the November 17 flight initially appeared to have been successful with the rocket’s first three stages operating nominally, problems arose with the ignition of the AVUM upper stage.
According to an Arianespace statement, approximately 8 minutes into the flight following the ignition of the Avum upper stage, a deviation in the spacecraft’s trajectory was identified. Soon after the anomaly was detected, ground controllers lost control of the vehicle and later the vehicle itself as it fell back to Earth.
The vehicle impacted an uninhabited area, said Arianespace.
After announcing the failure of the mission, Arianespace engineers began an initial investigation. Less than 24 hours later, the launch provider published a statement identifying a problem with the integration of the fourth-stage AVUM nozzle activation system.
This appears to be a human error and not related to the vehicle’s performance. Although an independent inquiry will be completed jointly by Arianespace and the European Space Agency, the identification of a human error may result in little to no delay to upcoming Vega missions.