Updated July 11 at 2:48 p.m. Eastern with additional information from ESA, Arianespace, CNES and Avio.
WASHINGTON — The fifteenth launch of a European Vega rocket ended in failure July 10, resulting in the loss of an imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates.
The Vega rocket, built by Italian manufacturer Avio, lifted off at 9:53 p.m. Eastern from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on the northern coast of South America.
Telemetry data indicated a deviation from the rocket’s intended course around its second minute of flight. The rocket left its intended course during its second-stage burn.
Arianespace of Evry, France, which markets the Vega rocket, confirmed mission failure nine minutes after liftoff.
“About 2 minutes after liftoff, around the [Zefiro]-23 ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s executive vice president of missions, operations and purchasing, said during the launch webcast. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express my deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.”
The failure is the first for Vega, a light-lift vehicle designed to launch around 1,500 kilograms to low Earth orbit. The four-stage launcher has been in service in 2012, and is Arianespace’s newest rocket.
Falcon Eye 1 was a 1,200-kilogram, dual-purpose satellite designed to provide imagery for the commercial market as well as the UAE Armed Forces. Built by Airbus Defence and Space with an imaging payload from Thales Alenia Space, the satellite draws on technology from France’s high-resolution Pleiades imaging constellation.
From its targeted 611-kilometer orbit, Falcon Eye 1 was intended to image the Earth in high resolution as it orbited 15 times a day.
A second satellite, Falcon Eye 2, was scheduled to launch on another Vega rocket late this year, though that timeline is now likely to change.
Arianespace had planned four Vega launches this year. The first took place March 21 with the Italian Space Agency’s PRISMA satellite. The next planned after Falcon Eye 1 was the Small Spacecraft Mission Service rideshare, previously slated for September, carrying 42 satellites.
On July 11, the European Space Agency and Arianespace said they formed an independent inquiry commission to investigate the cause of the failure.
Avio CEO Giulio Ranzo, in a video message posted after the launch failure, said his company and the French Space Agency CNES are also part of the inquiry commission.
CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall said in a statement that the failure “reminds us once more that we are in a tough business and that the line between success and failure is a very fine one indeed.”
“The failure is all the more unexpected, coming as it does after a run of 14 straight successes that had proved the maturity of the Vega launch system,” Le Gall said. “Our teams shall now be getting straight down to work to analyse, understand and fix the causes of the failure so that Europe can return to flight with Vega as quickly as possible.”
Arianespace said preparations for its next mission, a launch of the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Intelsat-39 and EDRS-C satellites remain underway. Arianespace said previously that the Ariane 5 mission was planned for July 24. The Ariane 5 mission will be Arianespace’s seventh mission of the year, counting the failed Vega mission.