While launch vehicles usually have their first launch failure during their first ten flights, the Avio-built Arianespace-operated Vega launch vehicle waited until its 15th flight to have its first.  After what seemed to be a successful launch from its Kourou launch site in French Guiana at 0153 GMT on 11 July, after separation of the first stage, the ignition of the Zefiro 23 solid rocket second stage was either anomalous or it might not have happened at all, despite reports from mission control that it had.  The separation of the fairing and stage separation did subsequently occur along with the ignition of the third stage, although by this point it was impossible to achieve orbital velocity.

Mission control in Kourou wonders what went wrong with the Vega launch. Courtesy: Arianespace

Either way, the subsequent stages had an anomalous trajectory and the rocket and its Falcon Eye 1 Earth observation/reconnaissance satellite for the UAE Defence Forces did not achieve orbit and they fell into the Atlantic Ocean. The satellite itself is based on the commercial Astrosat/Astrobus 1000 design and was built by Airbus Defence and Space in conjunction with Thales Alenia Space.

Surprisingly, given its military nature, both the launch and satellite were insured to a value of €369 million (US$415 million). While the Seradata Space Conference’s insurance panel and the audience both predicted via voting that the insurance year would be profitable, this latest loss means that it is now unlikely to be so, as the loss will eat up most of the likely premium receipts for the year, and with six months yet to run.