Spain’s first optical imaging satellite fails to reach orbit as the European rocket breaks down

Spain’s first optical imaging satellite fails to reach orbit as the European rocket breaks down
Arianspace's Vega launch vehicle shortly before lift offESA live web cast
  • Europe’s Vega rocket suffered an ‘anomaly’ after launching today causing the loss of Spain’s SEOSat-Ingenio, and the French TARANIS satellites.
  • The SEOSat-Ingenio is Spain's first Earth observation satellite for an ESA program to study our planet. The project was initiated in 2008 and cost the government around €200 million.
  • This is the second major malfunction that the Vega rocket has been witness to in two years.

Today was supposed to be a momentous day for Spain, with the European country launching its first optical imaging satellite into orbit. Instead, the milestone was left unfulfilled, with Arianespace’s Vega rocket failing within minutes of taking off from French Guiana.

The launch occurred at around 7:30 am (IST) with Spain’s SEOSat-Ingenio, and the French TARANIS satellites settled in to be deployed 700 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. Roughly eight minutes later, Arianespace — the European Space Agency’s (ESA) commercial arm — encountered an ‘anomaly.’

Within minutes, CEO Stephane Israel announced, “We can now confirm the mission is lost,” to some perplexed viewers watching the live stream.
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Vega’s second malfunction
This is the second major malfunction that the Vega rocket has been witness to in two years. Last year in June, the rocket failed during the launch of a satellite for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A faulty motor on the booster was later revealed to be the cause.

Vega made a triumphant return this year on September 2, launching 53 small satellites in one go for 21 different customers. The rocket can carry up to 1,5000 kilograms to polar orbits just over 700 kilometers in orbit.

However, on its second go today, the 30-meter tall launch vehicle has proven to be less than reliable. That said — since its inception in 2012 — Vega has seen 15 successful launches before last year’s disaster.
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"Eight minutes after the liftoff, and immediately after the ignition of the engine of the fourth stage of Vega, the Avum stage, we observed the degradation of the trajectory. It means that the speed was not nominal anymore,” he explained.

The company is yet to disclose the exact cause for failure during the launch but is currently investigating the issue.

Spain’s lost satellite
The SEOSat-Ingenio is Spain's first Earth observation satellite for an ESA program to study our planet. The project was initiated in 2008 and cost the government around €200 million.
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The satellite is equipped with a high-resolution dual camera that can take pictures of the planet with a resolution of 2.5 meters with a field of view that can look not only sideways but also downwards. The capability allows it to observe any point on Earth over three days.

According to the Head of Spain’s Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) Jorge Lomba, the SEOSat-Ingenio is the first satellite that Spain has indigenously designed, developed, and operated.

Its applications, however, were intended to go beyond just Spain or even Europe. It will also survey North Africa and Latin America. The expectation was the satellite’s cameras would have covered 2,500,000 square kilometers per day — more than five times the area of Spain — and take up to 600 images per day.
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