Arianespace is a French aerospace company that provides launch services aboard different expendable launch vehicles in Europe, ranging from the heavy-lift Ariane 5 for missions to geostationary transfer orbit to the Vega rocket for lighter payloads. The Vega rocket is jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
In November 2020 Arianespace launched the 17th launch of the Vega rocket, identified as the ‘VV17' mission, during which the rocket malfunctioned due to human error. The company said two cables carrying control signals to the thrust vectoring actuators on one of Vega’s upper-stage engines were crossed causing it to lose control and fall from the sky, the payload was lost in an uninhabited area, according to reports. The Vega rocket was carrying two payloads when it lifted off: an Earth-watching satellite for Spain called SEOSAT-Ingenio and the TARANIS satellite for France's Space Agency CNES. The launch failure is the second major malfunction of the Vega rocket in the past two years. In July 2019, a Vega rocket failed during the VV15 mission when it attempted to launch the Falcon Eye 1 military spy satellite for the United Arab Emirates. Investigators said it was a “thermo-structural failure”.
The Italian Space Agency typically launches payload aboard Arianespace launch vehicles, it planned to launch the COSMO SkyMed CSG-2 Earth observation satellite aboard an upgraded version of the Vega rocket that is under development called 'VEGA-C'. In late-September, the agency announced that it is moving the launch of the satellite from the Arianespace vehicle to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. “The second COSMO SkyMed Second Generation satellite (CSG-2) was planned to be launched with VEGA-C within 2021, but the launcher development has been impacted by the VV15 and VV17 failures and, above all, by the COVID pandemic. The delays, postponing the VEGA-C Maiden Flight to Q1 [first quarter of] 2022, with a consequent tight schedule of launches in 2022, made the launch period of CSG-2 no longer compatible with the needs of the COSMO Mission. Since Arianespace backlog was already full on Soyuz and Ariane systems in 2021, it was not possible to have a European back-up solution compliant with the CSG-2 schedule, thus an alternative solution with the U.S. provider SpaceX has been adopted allowing to keep the CSG-2 launch within the current year,” the Italian Space Agency wrote in a press release.
The Italian Space Agency did emphasize that it still believes in Arianespace launch capabilities despite the two previous failed launches and booked a future spaceflight. “In line with its long-lasting support ensured to the European launch industry, ASI confirmed its trust in Arianespace and VEGA-C capabilities by contracting the launch of the CSG-3 satellite, planned for 2024. Moreover, other future launch opportunities for ASI missions with VEGA-C are under discussion, confirming Arianespace as a key partner for the Agency,” they stated.
Featured Image Source: ESA