Enlarge /. The VV16 payload will be transported to the Vega Launch Zone in French Guiana.
ESA / CNES / Arianespace
European rocket company Arianespace has been trying to launch a Vega rocket with dozens of small satellites for almost a year.
First, the launch was delayed from mid-2019 after the Vega rocket suffered its first failure in 15 flights. (This happened in July 2019.) Earlier this year, after the missile failure had been investigated and resolved, Arianespace scheduled an Vegas return mission on March 23. But then the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world. and the European spaceport in French Guiana was finally closed for about three months.
Finally, the launch date was reset to June 18. The four-stage rocket and its payload from 53 separate satellites – from 1 kg CubeSats to 500 kg mini satellites – were prepared. Everyone seemed to be starting this "VV16" mission almost two weeks ago – then the prognosis became unfavorable.
The Vega rocket has a fairly narrow launch corridor for polar missions, and the winds in the upper atmosphere along this path were unfavorable on June 18. The winds were still persistent for newly planned start dates last weekend (June 27th and 28th).
On Wednesday, Arianespace seemed to be throwing up his hands in frustration. "As the weather situation does not improve in the short term, Arianespace has decided to postpone flight VV16 to August 17, 2020 if the forecast is likely to be more favorable due to the modeling of the winds," said the launch company in a press release. "We understand and share the impatience of our 21 customers."
A weather-related delay of seven weeks seems a bit exaggerated, so we decided to dig a little further.
First of all, the forecast for the next week or the next 10 days looks rough when it comes to winds at higher altitudes. However, it is not that this pattern will necessarily persist for the next seven weeks. Four of Vega's 15 launches flew in June, July and August – so the rocket can definitely launch from South America in the summer.
However, the batteries on board the small rocket (and on some of its satellites) will need to be recharged at some point. Customer representatives flying to French Guiana appear to be involved in this process to accomplish this task. Upon arrival in the non-European part of France, which borders Brazil, there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Finally, Arianespace also planned a commercial satellite launch mission for its larger Ariane 5 rocket. This VA253 flight is scheduled for July 28th as there is at least a two week turnaround time between launches at the spaceport in French Guiana. Prior to this mission there was no time to reset the Vega rocket and its payloads.
The 16th launch of a Vega rocket, a critical return flight to the mission, which also demonstrates the rocket's viability as a launch vehicle for small satellites, will be delayed by at least another seven weeks. And do the customers take care of the missile on board? "Oh, customers take care of it," said Emiliano Kargieman, CEO of Satellogic, on Twitter on Wednesday.