Vega-C: part made in Ukraine behind failure of first commercial flight of rocket

Two and a half months after the flight of the Italian launcher, in December 2022, the independent commission of inquiry made its conclusions: a piece manufactured by the Ukrainian company Youjnoye is in question.

By Dominique Gallois

A room made in Ukraine is the source of the failure of the first commercial flight of the VEGA-C rocket, Tuesday December 20, 2022. That day, two minutes and twenty-seven seconds after taking off from the Base of Kourou, in Guyana, the launcher, who was to orbit two observation satellites Pleiade d’Airbus, left his trajectory due to a drop in pressure from his second floor. According to the standard procedure, the order of destruction of this rocket was then given. Debris fell into the Atlantic Ocean.

At the request of Arianespace, responsible for this theft, and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Authority for the Development of the Launch System, an independent commission of inquiry was formed, in order to find at most quickly the reasons for this accident. The verdict fell on Friday, March 4 and confirms information from the tribune published the day before: the failure comes from the passage pass made by the Ukrainian company Youjnoye. This is the part that connects the central body to the nozzle at the bottom of the rocket.

For the commission, it is “an unexpected thermomechanical erosion of the carbon/carbon composite constituting the insert of the pass of the tuyère, bought by Avio in Ukraine. Additional investigations have led to the conclusion that this phenomenon was Probably due to a unit of homogeneity of the material used for this part. “This part has supported neither the pressure nor the temperature of the flight.

very heavy assessment for spatial Europe

Project manager of this rocket, the Italian group Avio had preferred this manufacturer to its traditional supplier, Arianegroup. The commission specifies in its report that “Avio has already implemented an alternative solution for the next nozzles of nozzles (…) manufactured by Arianegroup”. The objective set by ESA is to resume flights at the end of 2023.

But this accident raises the question of the responsibility of ESA as a sponsor of the rockets. In a letter sent on February 28, revealed by Les Echos, the French space agency CNES asks its European counterpart to carry out an internal investigation, in addition to the technical investigation. It requires a deep revision of project management.

Because the balance sheet is very heavy for space Europe: Arianespace finds itself without launcher to honor its contracts, when the Americans, the Chinese and even the Indians accelerate. Until the beginning of 2022, the European firm had a range of three rockets, including two Europeans: the small Vega, for the light satellites in low orbit, between 300 and 2,000 kilometers of the earth, and its big sister Ariane -5, for heavy loads to be placed in geostationary at 36,000 kilometers. It completed its offer with Russian launchers Soyuz to low orbit.

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/Media reports cited above.