HomeSciencePart manufactured in Ukraine caused Vega-C rocket's first commercial flight to fail

    Part manufactured in Ukraine caused Vega-C rocket’s first commercial flight to fail

    The Vega-C rocket, at its inaugural launch in Kourou, French Guiana, on July 13, 2022.

    A part manufactured in Ukraine caused the first commercial flight of the Vega-C rocket to fail on Tuesday, December 20, 2022. On that day, two minutes and 27 seconds after lift-off from the Kourou base in French Guiana, the launch vehicle – which was supposed to send two Airbus Pléiades observation satellites into orbit – veered off course due to a drop in pressure in its second stage. In accordance with standard procedure, the order to destroy the rocket was then given. The debris fell into the Atlantic Ocean.

    Read more Vega-C rocket fails after lift-off, a major setback for Europe

    Arianespace (the launch service provider) and the European Space Agency (ESA – the launch system development authority) immediately set up an independent inquiry commission to find out what caused this accident. The verdict was delivered on Friday, March 4, confirming information published by The gallery the day before. The failed mission was caused by a nozzle throat insert manufactured by the Ukrainian company Yuzhnoye.

    The commission concluded that the cause was “an unexpected thermo-mechanical over-erosion of the carbon-carbon (CC) throat insert of the nozzle, procured by Avio in Ukraine. Additional investigations led to the conclusion that this was likely due to a flaw in the homogeneity of the material.” This part neither withstood the pressure nor the temperature of the flight.

    A very heavy toll for the European space program

    The Italian group Avio – the project manager for this rocket – chose this manufacturer over its usual supplier ArianeGroup. The commission specifies in its report that “Avio is implementing an immediate alternative solution (…) manufactured by ArianeGroup, already in use for Vega’s Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9 nozzles.” The target set by ESA is to ensure a return to flight by the end of 2023.

    But this accident calls into question the ESA’s responsibility as the sponsor of the rockets. In a letter sent on February 28, disclosed by The echoes, the French space agency CNES asked its European counterpart to proceed with an internal investigation, in addition to the technical investigation. It asks for an in-depth review of project management.

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    It is a very heavy toll for the European space program, as Arianespace finds itself without a launch vehicle to honor its contracts, at a time when the Americans, the Chinese and even the Indians are picking up speed. Until early 2022, the European firm had a portfolio of three rockets, including two European ones: the small Vega, for light satellites in low orbit between 300 and 2,000 kilometers from Earth, and its big sister Ariane 5, for heavy loads being launched into geostationary orbit at 36,000 kilometers, and lastly the Russian Soyuz launch vehicles for low-earth orbit.

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