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Arianespace’s Vega rocket loss explained

March 6, 2023

Arianespace says that a faulty component caused the loss of one of its Italian-made Vega rockets on December 20th 2022.

The problem was probably caused by a faulty carbon component – in effect, a nozzle – which Italian aerospace group Avio had purchased from a supplier in Ukraine, Arianespace revealed as it published findings of its enquiry.

The Vega rocket was carrying two Airbus satellites and the mission failed some 2.5 minutes into the flight when the anomaly occurred with its Zefiro 40 rocket motor.

“No weakness in design of the Zefiro 40 has been revealed,” Arianespace stated, referring to the powerful engine which provides the acceleration for the second stage of the Vega C rocket. “The [investigation] Commission confirmed that the cause was an unexpected thermo-mechanical over-erosion of the carbon/carbon (C/C) composite constituting the nozzle throat insert, purchased by Avio in Ukraine.”

Arianespace has now banned the used of the composite material.

The December loss was the third failure out of eight launches on the Vega platform by Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA). It was the Vega C rocket version’s second launch.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA head, told a news conference on March 3rd that Europe’s access to space was at risk if European companies could not keep up with international rivals.

“This is not acceptable”, admitted Arianespace’s CEO Stephane Israel, who apologised to Airbus for having lost the two satellites.

Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio, Arianespace’s main contractor for the Vega C, said his company would increase the number of engineers and supply chain managers working on Vega project.

It emerged that the next Vega C flight is planned to take place before the end of this year. However, an ‘oversight’ group will put the construction and launches under the microscope for at least the next three flights at a cost of around €30 million.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is managing launches every 4 days.

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