UAE military satellite lost in Vega launch failure

A Vega rocket fired off its launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:53:03 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0153:03 GMT Thursday), but fell back to Earth minutes after after suffering an in-flight failure. Credit: Arianespace

A European Vega launcher failed Wednesday night around two minutes after liftoff from French Guiana and fell into the Atlantic Ocean, destroying an Airbus-built surveillance satellite for the United Arab Emirates.

Arianespace, the French launch service provider in charge of Wednesday night’s mission, declared a failure minutes after the 98-foot-tall (30-meter) Vega rocket took off from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America.

Luce Fabreguettes, Arianespace’s executive vice president of missions, operations and purchasing, said the failure occurred around the time of ignition of the Vega rocket’s solid-fueled Zefiro 23 second stage.

“As you have seen, about two minutes after liftoff, around the Z23 (second stage) ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Fabreguettes said. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express our deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.”

Arianespace released no immediate details on what went wrong, but Arianespace teams in French Guiana and at Avio — the Vega’s prime contractor in Italy — were analyzing data downlinked from the rocket in the hours after the accident.

“From the first flight data analysis, we will get in the coming hours more precise information, and we will communicate to everybody at the soonest,” Fabreguettes said.

The Vega rocket was attempting to place the Falcon Eye 1 Earth-imaging satellite into orbit for the UAE’s military. Falcon Eye 1 was the first of two identical surveillance satellites built for the UAE by French industry.

Airbus Defense and Space built the Falcon Eye satellites, and Thales Alenia Space provided the high-resolution optical imaging payloads for both spacecraft.

Wednesday night’s failure was the first for a Vega launcher after 14 consecutive successful missions since its debut in February 2012.

The four-stage Vega rocket lifted off from the European-run Guiana Space Center at 9:53:03 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0153:03 GMT Thursday) after a five-day delay caused by unfavorable high-altitude winds over the spaceport.

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