The second mission of Europe’s new Vega C rocket did not go according to plan.
The medium-body Vega C lifted off from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 8:47 p.m. EST (10:47 p.m. local time; 0147 GMT on Dec. 21) on Tuesday (Dec. 20), carrying two satellites for Airbus ‘ Pléiades Neo Earth imaging constellation.
The rocket’s first stage, known as the P120C, had done its job. But the second phase, called the Zefiro 40, did not.
“Approximately 2 minutes and 27 seconds after liftoff, an anomaly occurred on the Zefiro 40, ending the Vega C mission,” representatives of Arianespace, the French company that operates the Vega C, said in an e-mail Tuesday night. post statement said. “Data analyzes are ongoing to determine the reasons for this failure.”
Related: The history of rockets
An Arianespace Vega C rocket launches from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, carrying two Earth observation satellites for Airbus’ Pléiades Neo constellation on December 20, 2022. The mission failed shortly after liftoff. (Image credit: Arianespace)
The Vega C was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and is operated by Arianespace.
The 115-foot-tall (35-meter), four-stage rocket is a more powerful version of the Vega, which first flew in 2012. The Vega C can carry about 5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms) of payload to a 435-mile-high (700-kilometer) sun-synchronous orbit, compared with 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg) for the older rocket, according to Arianespace
(opens in new tab).
The two spacecraft lost to Tuesday’s failure, Pléiades Neo 5 and Pléiades Neo 6, weighed a combined 4,359 pounds (1,977 kg). The duo was headed for sun-synchronous orbit, where they would have completed Airbus’ Pléiades Neo Earth imaging constellation.
“The constellation is made of four identical satellites, built using the latest Airbus innovations and technological developments, and makes it possible to image any point of the globe several times a day at 30 centimeters. [12 inches] resolution,” Arianespace wrote in a mission description of the Vega C
(opens in new tab).
“Highly agile and reactive, they can be assigned up to 15 minutes before acquisition and return the images to Earth within the next hour,” added Arianespace. “Smaller, lighter, more agile, accurate and reactive than the competition, they are the first of their class whose capacity will be fully commercially available.”
The Vega C had one flight under its belt before Tuesday. In July 2022, the rocket successfully lifted off LARES-2, a 650-pound (295 kg) satellite developed by the Italian Space Agency, as well as six ride-along cubesats.
Tuesday’s mission was originally supposed to start on November 24. But Arianespace delayed nearly a month to replace faulty equipment on the rocket, a process that required
opening the Vega C’s payload screen (opens in new tab) at a processing facility in Kourou.
Further analysis will presumably try to determine whether the faulty equipment had anything to do with the launch failure. We should learn more on Wednesday (Dec. 21); Arianespace plans to hold a media teleconference at 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT).
Mike Wall is the author of “ Out there (opens in new tab) ” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab) . follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab) .