The Spanish satellite Ingenio is lost eight minutes after launch

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An absolute failure. The Spanish satellite SEOSAT-Ingenio, the largest space project in which the national industry had embarked, was lost shortly after its launch, apparently due to a failure of the Vega VV17 rocket that was supposed to put it into orbit at the edge of three o’clock this morning. Eight minutes after lift-off from Kourou in French Guiana, the rocket, developed by the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) jointly, got off track for reasons still unknown. The result is 200 million euros literally destroyed and a lot of effort and work woefully wasted. Along with the Spanish satellite, led by the Center for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI), the French Taranis, who was also traveling on board, has been lost.

What a disgust! Horrible”. Eva Vega, director of the Department of Space Programs at the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), did not hide this morning the bad news that the loss of the satellite has meant. Ingenio was intended 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, urban development … In addition, it would be very useful in monitoring emergencies such as floods, fires or earthquakes. Once in orbit, INTA would assume routine control of the mission from its Torrejón de Ardoz station in Madrid.

The launch of SEOSAT-Ingenio from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana
The launch of SEOSAT-Ingenio from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana – EFE

None of that can be. The rocket was launched at the scheduled time, at 2.52 Spanish peninsular hours. He planned to separate the Spanish satellite 54 minutes after takeoff and do the same with the French one an hour later. Ingenio should have been released from the rocket and placed in a heliosynchronous orbit (following the direction of the Sun as if it were a sunflower), at an altitude of approximately 670 kilometers

However, eight minutes after takeoff, when the launch of the fourth and last stage of the launcher was turned on, “something happened, we saw that the rocket lost altitude and the emission was cut off,” says Vega. The New Norcia station in Australia, which was supposed to follow the rocket’s evolution at the time, could no longer hear anything. “We do not know if the engine did not start, although they said yes, or if it had little power, but the rocket did not take enough height,” he adds. The trajectory of the artifact deviated, “which meant the loss of the mission”, confirmed from ESA.

The space agency has already begun analyzing the telemetry data to determine the cause of the failure. In a few hours, ESA officials will appear at a press conference at the Kourou space complex to report on what happened. Ariane space, the company in charge of developing Vega, has yet to comment. “They will initiate an investigation, so possibly we will not know the cause of the failure in several months,” says the head of INTA.

Under the sea?

Placing Ingenuity on the Vega rocket
Placing Ingenuity on the Vega rocket

But what exactly happened to Ingenio? ‘It may have been destroyed in the air or fallen into the sea. It’s tremendous “, says Eva Vega. “The launchers have a very critical technology and, unfortunately, all fail sometimes, but you never want it to happen to you,” he acknowledges. Something similar happened in July last year in the launch of an Arab Emirates satellite on another Vega rocket. But those responsible have started and will launch a new project in a couple of years. That Ingenio be rebuilt, “is a high-level decision. The investment will not be so high, because the developments have already been made, but it also involves a lot of money, time and effort “, explains the director at INTA. “This is the first time something similar has happened with a national project, but now we have had to, it had to happen sometime,” he underlines. Fortunately, Ingenio’s launch and first year in orbit were covered by insurance, which will mitigate losses.

Ingenio, a kind of meter-by-meter hexagon comparable in size to a small van, had a useful life of seven years, although it carried fuel for ten. The SEOSAT-Ingenio project (the acronym refers to “Spanish Earth Observation Satellite”) has been financed by the Center for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI) and its implementation has been in charge of an industrial consortium of Spanish companies, Among them Airbus Defense and Space, as the main industrial contractor for the satellite, and SENER and INDRA, responsible for the payload and the ground segment. Some of these companies have expressed their “dismay”, but can not offer more information until Arianespace offers its version.

The most important element of Ingenio was a high resolution dual camera to take images of any point on the Earth’s surface every three days. The identical cameras were designed to capture 55 km at a single glance and 2.5 million square kilometers each day. Ingenio was part of the national Earth Observation program and was going to cover the optical needs, while the Paz satellite, launched in 2018, covered the radar. They formed an enviable tandem that can no longer be completed.

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