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Europe's Vega-C rocket failure traced to defective engine part: ESA
The failed launch of a Vega-C European rocket in French Guiana last December was due to the deterioration of a key engine component that resulted in a rapid loss of boosting power, European Space Agency officials said Friday.
The launching from the Kourou space port would have been the first commercial launch for the Vega-C and presented a new option for European space payloads after numerous delays to the next-generation Ariane 6 rocket and cancelled Russian cooperation over the Ukraine war.
But shortly after lift-off on December 21 with a payload of two observation satellites, the rocket deviated from its programmed trajectory and communications were lost, forcing officials to destroy it over the Atlantic Ocean.
An ESA investigative panel found that pressure in the Zefiro 40 motor, made by Italy's Avio, had started falling during the second stage of lift-off, the commission's co-president Pierre-Yves Tissier told journalists.
At three minutes 27 seconds after the launch, "the rocket's acceleration had fallen almost to zero," he said.
Investigators determined that a nozzle neck supposed to ensure constant combustion pressure in the motor had failed to resist the enormous pressure and temperatures reaching 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,432 degrees Fahrenheit).
The composite carbon part was made by Ukrainian firm Youjnoye.
The commission did not fault the rocket's design or development, but ESA chief Josef Aschbacher acknowledged "shortcomings in the system" and said the agency had a "very clear action plan... for emerging stronger from this crisis".
The plan includes using a new nozzle neck made of a different material by Ariane, the Vega's constructor, and new qualification phases for Zefiro 40 engines.
A commercial Vega-C launch is now targeted toward the end of this year, potentially to put the Sentinel-1C Earth observation satellite into orbit.
© 2023 AFP