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Faulty part from Ukraine likely causes rocket launch failure

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The European Space Agency said Friday that an investigation into the failure of a rocket carrying two Earth observation satellites last year indicated the cause was a faulty part purchased from Ukraine.

BERLIN– The European Space Agency said Friday that an investigation into the failure of a rocket carrying two Earth observation satellites last year indicated the cause was a faulty part purchased from Ukraine.

The Vega C rocket crashed into the sea less than three minutes after lifting off from a spaceport in French Guiana in December. Arianespace, which provided launch service, said at the time that a decrease in pressure had been observed in the rocket’s second stage, “leading to the premature termination of the mission”.

“The cause of the failure was a gradual deterioration of the Zefiro 40 nozzle,” the European Space Agency said.

The second stage of the Zefiro 40, made by Italian space company Avio, suffered “unexpected thermomechanical over-erosion” from a carbon component purchased in Ukraine, he said.

Arianespace’s Pierre-Yves Tissier said the conclusion was based on an examination of identical parts and still needed to be confirmed by further testing.

The ESA added that during the investigation “no weaknesses in the Zefiro 40 design were revealed”.

The launch was the third failure of the last eight Vega and Vega C rocket launches, an embarrassment for the agency and its partners.

“We will overcome this very difficult moment,” St├ęphane Israel, director of Arianespace, told reporters.

ESA chief Josef Aschbacher added that measures would now be implemented “to come out of this crisis stronger”.

The launch was to put into orbit two Earth observation satellites made by Airbus, Pleiades Neo 5 and 6. The satellites would have been part of a constellation capable of taking images of any point on the globe with a resolution of 30 centimeters (12 inches).


Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.