from the good-fast-cheap;-pick...three? dept.
In a rare victory for international launch competition, SpaceX has snagged a contract to launch an Italian Earth observation satellite from European launch monopoly and political heavyweight Arianespace.
After spending the better part of a decade with its head in the sand as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket rapidly came to dominate the global launch market, Arianespace has become increasingly reliant on its ability to entice politicians into forcing European Union member states to launch any and all domestic satellites and spacecraft on its Ariane 5, Ariane 6, and Vega rockets. Save for a few halting, lethargic technology development programs that have yet to bear any actionable fruit, the company – heavily subsidized by European governments – has almost completely failed to approach head-on the threat posed by SpaceX by prioritizing the development of rockets that can actually compete with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy on cost and performance.
[...] A recent development offers the best look yet at what many European space agencies likely suffer through as a consequence of their governments signing away access to an increasingly competitive launch industry – often seemingly in return for Arianespace selecting contractors or (re)locating development hubs or factories in certain countries. Notably, sometime in September 2021, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) confirmed signs that it was moving the launch of its COSMO SkyMed CSG-2 Earth observation satellite from a new Arianespace rocket to SpaceX's Falcon 9.
[...] SkyMed CSG-1 debuted on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket in December 2019, while CSG-2 was originally scheduled to launch sometime in 2021 on one of the first Arianespace Vega-C rockets. However, in July 2019 and November 2020, the Vega rocket Vega-C is based on suffered two launch failures separated by just a single success. Aside from raising major questions about Arianespace's quality assurance, those near-back-to-back failures also delayed Vega's launch manifest by three years. Combined with a plodding launch cadence and jam-packed manifest for Arianespace's other non-Vega rockets, that meant that Italy would have likely had to wait 1-2 years to launch SkyMed CSG-2 on a European rocket.
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Upper Stage Issue Causes Arianespace Launch Failure, Costing 2 Satellites
An overnight launch of Arianespace's Vega rocket failed after reaching space, costing France and Spain an Earth-observing satellite each. The failure represents the second in two years after Vega had built up a spotless record over its first six years of service.
[...] Something went wrong with the liquid-fueled [fourth] stage after it had reached an altitude of over 200km. While it's not entirely clear at the time what had failed, in the words of Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël, "The speed was not nominal anymore." This caused the upper stage and satellites to veer off the planned trajectory, and Arianespace lost control of the vehicle shortly afterward. The spacecraft returned to Earth near where the upper stage was expected to fall in an area that's completely uninhabited.
The failure happened at a stage of the launch where Arianespace is able to obtain detailed telemetry data from tracking stations in North America.
[...] The company's initial investigation focused on the engine of the liquid-fueled fourth stage, specifically "a problem related to the integration of the fourth-stage AVUM nozzle activation system," which was "the most likely cause of the loss of control of the launcher." Arianespace has already named a European Space Agency official who will head the inquiry into the failure, which will focus on why the problem wasn't caught and corrected prior to launch.
Bad Cabling Blamed for Failed Launch of European Satellites
A little more than a week ago, the European Space Agency[(ESA)] announced an initiative to study "future space transportation solutions." Basically, the agency provided about $600,000, each, to three companies—ArianeGroup, Avio, and Rocket Factory Augsburg—to study competitive launch systems from 2030 onward.
[...] there now appears to be increasing concern in Europe that the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets will not be competitive in the launch market of the near future. This is important, because while member states of the European Space Agency pay for development of the rockets, after reaching operational status, these launch programs are expected to become self-sufficient by attracting commercial satellite launches to help pay the bills.
Economic ministers in France and Italy have now concluded that the launch market has changed dramatically since 2014, when the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets were first designed. According to a report in Le Figaro newspaper, the ministers believe the ability of these new European rockets to compete for commercial launch contracts has significantly deteriorated since then.
It would seem that ESA's payback plan didn't expect an agile competitor to disrupt the entire market with efficiencies that governments seem unable to match. But, there's more.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is in talks with the United Kingdom for the company’s Starlink satellite unit to potentially earn funding as a part of the government’s new $6.9 billion internet infrastructure program, CNBC confirmed.