“Human errors” involved in the loss of the Vega rocket and the Taranis satellite

The European Space Agency and Arianespace have launched a commission to investigate the failure of the VV17 mission. “Human errors” are put forward.

After the accident, the investigation. An independent commission of inquiry was announced on November 17 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace, in order to identify the reasons for theVV17 mission failed, which consisted of using a light Vega rocket to put two satellites into orbit: Seosat-Ingenio on behalf of the Spanish space agency and Taranis for its French counterpart.

On the night of November 16 to 17, the small European launcher was indeed lost during its final ascent phase: just after the first ignition of the fourth stage engine, the rocket trajectory was no longer correct. Vega had been in flight for eight minutes by then and there was no warning sign of such a disaster – the first three engines for example had worked well.

The Taranis satellite, dedicated to the observation of certain stormy phenomena (illustration). // Source: © CNES/ill./SATTLER Oliver, 2012

“Human errors” mentioned

The commission, chaired by Daniel Neuenschwander, director of space transport at ESA and Stéphane Israël, head of Arianespace, will have to “ provide detailed information to explain why steps were not taken to identify and correct the integration error At the fourth floor. It will also have to formulate a roadmap for the resumption of flight of the Vega rocket in complete safety.

As soon as the loss of the launcher was confirmed, the teams began to investigate the causes of the disaster. The first conclusions do suggest a concern at the level of the upper floor Avum (acronym ofAttitude and Vernier Upper Module), which uses a mixture of dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen peroxide. His failure ” is the most likely cause of the launcher losing control ».

In an exchange with the press, Roland Lagier, technical director of Arianespace, ruled out the hypothesis of a design problem. ” It was clearly a production and quality control problem, a series of human errors “, he said. It appears that the cables of two thrust vector control actuators were reversed. The commands for one of the actuators were actually sent to the other.

The Vega rocket is young: its first operational flight only dates from 2012. It had flawlessly until 2019, with its first failure – again, the rocket’s trajectory has become aberrant. A successful flight had taken place then, before this new failure. A new version of the rocket, Vega-C, is to make its debut in June 2021. Its particularity is that it sharing of technical elements with Ariane 6.

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