Vega rocket crashes into the ocean off French Guiana

A European Vega launcher failed just minutes after launch, crashing into the Atlantic Ocean Thursday off the coast of French Guiana and destroying a surveillance satellite.

A Vega rocket crashed into the Ocean Wednesday just minutes after liftoff. Photo by Jim Guillon

French launch service provider Arianespace said the 98-foot Vega rocket failed when the solid-fuel engines ignited. The satellite cargo was manufactured by Airbus and was being launched into space on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.

The rocket took off at 9:53 p.m. EDT from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on the northern coast of South America.

“As you have seen, about two minutes after liftoff, around the Z23 (second stage) ignition, a major anomaly occurred, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Arianespace executive vice president of missions Luce Fabreguettes said. “On behalf of Arianespace, I wish to express our deepest apologies to our customers for the loss of their payload.”

The second stage engine was supposed to fire for 77 seconds and make way for the liquid-fueled third and fourth stage rockets. An independent commission will be established to investigate the failure. The data downloaded from the rocket will be analyzed to find the exact cause of the crash.

“From the first flight data analysis, we will get in the coming hours more precise information, and we will communicate to everybody at the soonest,” Fabreguettes said.

This is the first time a Vega rocket has failed. They have been in service since 2012 and carry a 1,500 kilogram payload. For this flight, the cargo was a Falcon Eye 1 satellite that would have provided imagery for the UAE military and commercial uses.

UAE planned to launch another satellite, the Falcon Eye 2, later this year but the timeline could change now after the crash.

ByNicholas Sakelaris