Go back

Extra inspections of European rockets recommended after failure

Image: European Space Agency

Investigation of 17 November crash confirms cause was rocket’s final-stage thruster

An investigation into a November rocket crash that destroyed two European satellites intended to be used for Earth observation has confirmed initial suspicions about its cause and recommended updates to pre-launch inspection procedures.

The 17 November flight of the Vega launcher ended in painful losses for science when thrusters on the fourth and final stage of the rocket misfired, causing the rocket to crash. Nobody was hurt, but Spanish and French satellites being lifted into orbit were lost.

An investigation set up by the European Space Agency and the rocket’s manufacturer, Arianespace, attributed the cause of the crash to the “wrong routing and connection” of parts of the thruster and a failure to detect this through control steps and tests, Arianespace said on 18 December.

It said the investigation recommended “additional inspections and tests on the next two Vega launchers, whose hardware is already totally or partially produced”, as well as changes to Vega manufacturing, assembly and sign-off processes.

Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, said the findings and recommendations may allow Vega rockets to fly again from the spring of 2021.