The Spanish observation satellite SEOSAT-IngenioA milestone for the national industry, it was lost eight minutes after its launch from Kourou, in French Guiana, on November 17. The rocket Vega VV17 that should put it in orbit deviated from its trajectory so it was then recognized as a “Human error” during its production. Now, an independent inquiry commission organized by the French company Arianespace, the rocket manufacturer, and the European Space Agency (ESA), has confirmed the cause of the disaster: as suspected, crossed cables.
According to the commission, after launch, the first three stages of the rocket operated normally until the AVUM upper stage was turned on. At that point, the trajectory deviated, control of the rocket was lost, and the mission failed. Initial investigations, conducted immediately after takeoff using available data, identified a problem in the connection of the AVUM Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system cables of the fourth stage as the most likely cause of the loss of control of the launcher.
The new report confirms the root causes of failure identified initially, explaining what went wrong in the integration process and why the error was not detected before the flight. Specifically, it concludes that the error occurred “in the incorrect routing and connection of the control lines of the electromechanical actuators of the AVUM upper stage thrust vector control (TVC), reversing the steering commands and causing path degradation leading to the loss of the vehicle. ‘
Return in early 2021
The independent commission has presented a set of recommendations to ensure the safe and rapid return of Vega rockets to flight. The measures include additional inspections and tests on the next two Vega launchers, whose hardware is already fully or partially produced.
Since this week, a working group led by ESA and Arianespace has begun to implement the roadmap proposed by the commission. Some of the actions will be carried out by Vega’s main contractor, the Italian firm Avio, in order to make Vega VV18 next release reality from French Guiana at the end of the first quarter of 2021. Then, says Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, the rockets will be able to return to flight “with full confidence.”
“The commission has drawn up a series of recommendations that once implemented should allow a robust, reliable and even rapid return to the Vega flight, helping to ensure the autonomy of access to space in Europe”, has corroborated Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transport of the ESA.
SEOSAT-Ingenio, from the Center for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI), was designed to take images of the earth’s surface with an impressive resolution of up to 2.5 meters. His photographs would be used in multiple applications in cartography, crop control and urban development, in addition to monitoring emergencies such as floods, fires or earthquakes. With a shelf life of seven years, the project cost 200 million euros and was carried out by an industrial consortium of Spanish companies. The device had no insurance.
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