While all eyes were on SpaceX’s historic Crew Dragon mission as its “Resilience” spacecraft carrying four astronauts steadily approached the International Space Station Monday night, a European rocket carrying two Earth observation satellites blasted off from South America and tragically failed shortly after liftoff.
A Vega rocket made by France-based Arianespace for the European Space Agency (ESA) lifted off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:52 p.m. Eastern Time. Eight minutes later, just after the ignition of its final upper stage, called Avum, the rocket veered off course and lost contact with ground stations.
“We can now confirm that mission is lost,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said during a launch webcast. “Eight minutes after the liftoff… we have observed the degradation of the trajectory. It means that the speed was not nominal anymore, so we have observed this degradation.”
“We deeply apologize toward our customers,” the executive tweeted early Tuesday morning, adding that Arianespace engineers and the ESA are investigating the cause of the malfunction.
It was the second major launch failure of the Vega rocket in 18 months. Last July, a Vega rocket carrying a spy satellite for the United Arab Emirates deviated from its trajectory two minutes after liftoff. A subsequent investigation found that the anomaly was due to a faulty motor on the booster.
The payload on Monday’s mission included a Spanish satellite called SEOSAT-Ingenio, the country’s first Earth observation satellite, and a science satellite called TARANIS (Tool for the Analysis of RAdiation from lightNIng and Sprites) made by France’s space Agency CNES to study Earth’s upper atmosphere.