Vega, a rocket with a Ukrainian engine, fails during launch. Pivdenmash says it is not its fault

On November 16, 2020, an Arianespace Vega rocket was expected to deliver SEOSAT-Ingenio and TARANIS satellites to sun-synchronous orbits. The launch was almost perfect, but in the end, due to abnormal operation of the upper stage, the satellites did not get into orbit, Liga.net reports.

What happened

The rocket was launched from the Kuru Cosmodrome in French Guiana at 03:52 a.m. Kyiv time. Eight minutes after liftoff of Vega mission VV17, following the first ignition of the engine of the Avum upper stage, a deviation of trajectory was identified, entailing the loss of the mission.

The 820-kg SEOSAT-Ingenio was an ESA satellite designed to image Earth’s land with a resolution of 2.5 m. The TARANIS satellite was a science satellite designed to observe extremely bright electrical phenomena in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The satellite was expected to study brilliant visible-light flashes known as sprites, blue jets and elves, as well as gamma-ray flashes.

In July 2019, Vega already had a failed launch: then it was unable to put into orbit satellites for the UAE. The cost of launching the rocket ranges from €25 million to €22 million, depending on the number of launches per year.

Pivdenmash commentary

A Ukrainian rocket engine RD-843 is installed on the AVUM upper stage. It is manufactured at the Pivdenmash plant. The plant’s press service has already commented on the incident:

“It was found that the cables leading to the traction control actuators on the upper stage were inverted during the installation of the engine on the core booster. The problem with the cable routing caused the engine to move the injector in the wrong direction in response to commands from the missile guidance system. This led to the fact that the rocket lost control immediately after starting the engine of the fourth stage of the launch vehicle.[…]

The RD-843 sustainer rocket engine unit is manufactured at the Pivdenmash plant under a contract with AVIO (Italy) and is supplied to the customer for further installation on the fourth stage of the Vega LV (also known as the AVUM core booster). Thus, the cause of the incident is not a structural defect of the RD-843 sustainer rocket engine unit or a defect during its manufacture at the Pivdenmash plant.”

The company Arianespace reported that they will analyze telemetry data to determine the cause of the failure.