The first launch of an Italian-made Vega rocket since an in-flight failure almost a year ago has been rescheduled to at least Monday night due to potentially dangerous upper-level winds over the Vega launch base in Kourou, French Guiana. The rocket will hold a variety of small satellites made in the United States in what could mean foreign competition for U.S. rocket builders like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.
Vega last launched in July 2019, on an unsuccessful mission that failed to reach orbit, after a problem resulted in the rocket splitting apart just minutes after liftoff. The rocket’s 16th launch, scheduled for Saturday from South America, represents Vega’s return to flight after months of Avio diagnosing the cause of the failure, which determined that super-hot gas from burning solid propellant impinged on the structure of the Vega rocket’s Zefiro 23 second stage on the mission last July, generating a “thermo-structural failure” on the second stage’s forward dome.
According to Giulio Ranzo, Avio’s CEO, investigators uncovered a “manufacturing anomaly” that was missed by Avio’s quality control checks.
“We had thermal protection (on the second stage) where the thickness was perhaps less than one millimeter short, so we had a very, very tiny deviation that was undetectable to all the quality checks,” Ranzo said in March during an interview with Spaceflight Now.
“So what we have done is we have greatly improved the technologies to allow for the manufacturing quality controls — using not only ultrasound but also digital radiography — in a much finer way with respect to work we used to do in the past,” Ranzo said.
Additionally, this launch will see Vega carry 53 spacecraft, in increasingly common practices in the industry known as “ridesharing.” This is the first demonstration of the satellite dispenser Arianespace created to facilitate more of these types of launches.
“This Vega launch is important because it’s not easy to put a bunch of different satellites, all kinds of different applications, together in one launch,” Guillen said.
While Vega could represent competition for companies like Space X, earlier this month, “Elon Musk’s private space company launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into orbit, successfully beginning SpaceX’s first crewed mission. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET. The capsule is the first privately designed and built spacecraft to carry astronauts to space and is bound for the International Space Station,” a CNBC report explained. “Beyond the achievement for SpaceX, the launch represents the first time NASA has launched its own astronauts since the end of the space shuttle program nearly a decade ago.”
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