The causes of the Vega C VV22 mission failure are known. The independent commission of inquiry set up after the December 21 accident presented its conclusions on March 3 at ESA headquarters.
Six senior officials under fire
They were all there this morning, at the headquarters of the European Space Agency, in Paris, to present the results of the investigation that was entrusted to independent experts, after the in-flight failure of the first commercial flight of the Vega C launch vehicle : Josef Aschbacher (ESA Director General), Stéphane Israël (Executive Chairman of Arianespace), Giovanni Colangelo (ESA Inspector General and co-chairman of the investigative committee), Pierre-Yves Tissier (Arianespace's technical director and co-chair of the investigative commission), Giulio Ranzo (president of Avio) and Daniel Neuenschwander (ESA's director of Space Transportation).
Third failure in eight flights
For the record, the Vega C launcher, an evolution of the Vega launcher developed by Italian industrialist Avio on behalf of the ESA, had successfully completed its maiden flight on July 15 2022.
But the following mission (VV22), on December 21 had seen a failure of the upper stage (Zefiro 40), and the loss of Pléiades Neo 5 and 6 satellites from Airbus Defence and Space, dedicated to Earth observation.
This was the third failure in eight flights for a Vega/Vega C launch vehicle, following the VV15 (July 11 2019) and VV17 (November 17 2020) missions.
An... Ukrainian element in question
The investigation commission is formal : it was the carbon-carbon nozzle throat of the second stage of the launcher that was defective - an " extremely sophisticated and complex " part, as Giulio Ranzo put it.
This critical component had been supplied by Ukrainian manufacturer Yuznoye, preferred to ArianeGroup due to availability issues, according to Avio's president.
Return to flight end of 2023
The return to flight of Vega/Vega C is now conditioned on the re-qualification of the Z40 architecture, which will require, among other things, a bench test of the engine with new carbon-carbon equipment, but also a review of the supply chain management.
The hope today is that Vega (which is not equipped with the failed nozzle throat) will return to service by the end of summer, and that Vega C will do the same by the end of the year.
The first mission will carry two main payloads, and a few small satellites.
The second mission will be dedicated to the launch of the Sentinel 1C Earth observation satellite of the European Commission, called " valuable " by Josef Aschbacher.
A year's delay
So, it's at least a year's delay for customers who have ordered launch services from Arianespace using the lightweight launcher in its lineup, which currently has 15 missions in its order book.
" We have to deliver ", Stéphane Israël reminded.
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