Italy’s Vega-C rocket a step closer to returning to flight after successful engine test

By Thomson Reuters May 28, 2024 | 11:47 AM

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s Vega-C rocket is closer to flying again after a successful test of its engines carried out at the end of May, its manufacturer Avio said on Tuesday.

Vega-C launchers are expected to return to flight in late 2024 after implementing fixes recommended by an independent panel of the European Space Agency (ESA) following a failed satellite launch.

In December 2022 an Arianespace mission carrying two Airbus satellites failed about two and a half minutes into flight when an anomaly occurred with the Zefiro 40 motor used by the Vega C rocket due to a nozzle failure.

Europe’s new heavyweight launcher built by ArianeGroup – an Airbus-Safran, joint venture – has also been delayed by technical glitches but is due to stage its first test in the coming months.

Launchers are a pressing issue as Europe faces a gap in access to space following the delays, coupled with the loss of access by western European nations to Russia’s Soyuz programme due to the war in Ukraine.

In the recent test, carried out in a facility in Sardinia, the new nozzle of the Zefiro-40 – a 7.6 metre-tall rocket motor – “performed as expected throughout the scheduled 94 seconds burning time of the test, simulating a nominal in-flight performance”, Avio said in a statement.

A second firing test, to be conducted in October, will then qualify the Zefiro 40 to return to flight from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

Avio is the prime contractor and design authority of the Vega-C launchers. France’s Arianespace is the launch service provider.

Italy has been campaigning for the rocket to be marketed separately from ArianeGroup’s subsidiary Arianespace, which currently sells and operates all major European launches, and a deal in November opened the door to it being operated independently by Avio.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Susan Fenton)