Arianespace Vega-C VV22 Launch: Pléiades Neo 5 & 6 — Failure

Arianespace planned (see update below) to launch a Vega-C rocket on 2022-11-25 at 01:47 UTC (evening of the 24th in western hemisphere time zones) from the European Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, to place two Airbus Defence and Space Pléiades Earth observation satellites in 620 km 97.89° Sun-synchronous orbits.

This launch will complete deployment of the Pléiades constellation, which provides 30 cm resolution imagery with a twice a day revisit time at constant Sun angle for both commercial and military customers. The constellation is a commercial venture entirely funded by Airbus.

Vega is Arianespace’s light launcher. Its three main stages are all solid rockets with a liquid trim and orbital insertion fourth stage at the top. The first stage of Vega will also be used as side solid boosters for Ariane 6. Payload for this launch is 1940 kg.


(2022-11-24 18:56 UTC)


The launch occurred on time at the rescheduled date of 2022-12-21. At around 3:26 after launch (18:25 in the video), during the burn of the rocket’s Zefiro 40 second stage solid rocket motor, there was a visible brightening of the plume (shown in the small box at the right in the video—ignore the animation at the left which is disconnected from reality) and afterward it began to change as if, perhaps, the stage was tumbling, Kerbal-style. As soon as the trajectory box appears at the bottom of the screen at 18:33 in the video the velocity (Vitesse) can be seen to be falling. Thereafter, the trajectory (while initially rising ballistically) begins to deviate below the green expected trajectory line, By 20:00 in the video (5:04 after launch) the plotted trajectory is falling and continues to do so until telemetry is lost at 21:50 in the video (T+6:52) at an altitude of 47 km. There follows some painful-to-listen-to commentary and finally, at 25:39 in the video, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël announces the failure, described as an “underpressure observed on the Zefiro 40” second stage.

This is only the second launch of the Vega C configuration. The first launch on 2022-07-13 was successful.