ESA setting aside funds for Vega launcher return to flight 

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BREMEN, Germany — The European Space Agency is preparing to allocate a few million euros to ensure Vega doesn’t have any repeats of its July launch failure, an agency official said Nov. 20. 

Thilo Kranz, head of ESA’s space transportation technology coordination office, said in an interview at Space Tech Expo Europe here that the agency is planning a “small set aside” for Vega to be approved at the ministerial conference one week from today. 

Kranz said the funding will be in the range of the “lower double digits” millions of euros. ESA’s focus with the funding is not on modifying Vega, but reinforcing the safety of the rocket.

“It’s more looking to the processes and making sure that the failure mode that has been identified will not repeat itself,” he said. 

Vega’s manufacturer Avio and an independent inquiry board with ESA, the French and Italian space agencies traced the launcher’s July 15 failure, which destroyed the UAE’s Falcon Eye 1 imaging satellite, to the second stage of the four-stage rocket, known as the Zefiro-23. Avio anticipates a return to flight in March with a to-be-determined customer. 

Kranz said the ESA funding covers several recommendations that the failure review panel made. 

“It’s additional tests, it’s a review of the program, it’s some inquiries into the materials — these kinds of things,” he said. “It is not a new development.”

Kranz said Vega’s return to flight is not a major focus of the ministerial, which takes place in Seville, Spain, Nov. 27 and 28. There, ESA’s 22 member states decide on what programs to fund for the next three years. 

A bigger focus is Vega’s successor, Vega C, which ESA, Avio, and European launch provider Arianespace anticipate conducting a maiden flight of in the first half of next year. Vega C can lift roughly 700 kilograms more than Vega, and does not use Vega’s Zefiro-23 rocket stage.