Monday’s loss of an Arianespace Vega rocket is likely to delay New Space companies planning on using the solid rocket to put satellites into orbit, but it may not have a substantial impact. The VV17 mission on November 16, 2020 failed to put two satellites into orbit, resulting in the loss the two Earth sciences observations spacecraft onboard.
Only two and a half months after Vega’s successful return to flight, the VV17 mission had successfully gone through its first three solid stages when problems with the AVUM upper stage resulted in a “degraded trajectory,” followed by loss of control and loss of mission. An initial investigation found the most likely cause of loss of control were two crossed control cables for AVUM thrusters.
Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) have set up an independent Inquiry Commission to detail the problems involved and put together a roadmap for Vega’s return to flight “under conditions of complete reliability.” At least two Vega launches are scheduled for 2021, with VV18 tentatively set for February.
VV18 was manifested to carry Eutelsat’s ELO Alpha 6U cubesat to connect with Sigfox and other IoT satellites, three Myriota IoT satellites, and several Spire Global Lemur-2 satellites. The biggest impact is might be on Myriota, but its 3U-sized satellites should be able to find rides onboard rideshare missions operated by SpaceX and Rocket Lab. Eutelsat’s ELO Alpha cubesat is a pathfinder with the company already planning to operate at least two hosted missions onboard Loft Orbital missions. Spire has close to 100 satellites in orbit, so delays in launching one group are unlikely to adversely affect the company’s overall operations.
At the present time, there seems to be adequate options for alternative rideshares to orbit, including SpaceX operating dedicated launches for multiple small satellites, the typically reliable Indian PSLV, and RocketLab – for those who can afford it and get on the company’s increasingly busy manifest. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne and Firefly’s Alpha vehicles may also be available in 2021, depending on how successful both companies are in making successful first flights. Both companies plan their next launch attempts in December.