Europe’s Space Mission Backlog is Getting Worse Due to Rocket Problems

Rocket issues are causing a worsening backlog of European space missions. A faulty component made in Ukraine is to blame for the Vega C rocket‘s failure in December 2022. This setback has caused the rocket’s launch to be delayed until at least the remainder of the year. This might make the backlog of missions that need to launch worse. The Vega C is the most recent setback in a string of setbacks. These setbacks have drastically reduced Europe’s launch capabilities since it made its maiden flight only last July.

Ariane 5 is a heavy-lifting rocket that has been in use. It has been phased out of manufacturing. Ariane 6 is set to serve as its replacement. However, it has been delayed and won’t make its first flight until at least late 2023. European nations cancelled contracts for launches using Russian Soyuz rockets. The reason for the rocket shortage in Europe is attributed to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, leaving only two Ariane 5 rockets available. One of them will be used to launch the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer for the ESA in April.

The Euclid space telescope is another significant ESA mission. It will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, rather than the ESA’s Kourou spaceport in French Guyana, in July. The need to use a SpaceX Falcon 9 instead of a Soyuz is responsible for this. The Euclid mission manager at the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, Giuseppe Racca, says that moving a spacecraft from one launcher to another is not very straightforward, but they managed.

The Vega and Vega C programs are run by ESA and Arianespace. In addition, there is a European team spearheaded by Avio of Colleferro, outside of Rome. The responsibility for constructing both rockets lies with this team. The first stage of the Vega C launched on December 20 and performed flawlessly, according to the independent inquiry into the failed launch. The second stage’s engine, an Avio-designed and -built Zefiro 40 liquid fuel motor, then started up as expected. Unfortunately, 144 seconds into the flight, the pressure in the hoses feeding the nozzle began to decline.

The investigation panel linked the issue to a carbon-carbon composite component made by the Ukrainian firm Yuzhnoye prior to the start of the war. The component that feeds fuel into the nozzle must tolerate significant mechanical loads and thermal gradients. However, it ruptured because its density was not uniform. ESA will therefore reallocate €30 million to substitute the flawed component and carry out a new round of Zefiro 40 ground tests. By September 2023, ESA and Arianespace want to resume Vega launches. In addition, they have a goal for the end of the year to resume Vega C launches.

The Earth-mapping satellite Sentinel 2C and EarthCare, a climate and weather satellite that ESA will operate alongside the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, are among the 15 flights that Vega and Vega C now have on hold. ESA’s director general, Aschbacher, voiced concern and even said that this is a moment when we need to ponder thoroughly how we restore autonomous access to space for Europe.