The European Space Agency (ESA) today released its completed investigation of December 2022 launch failure of its Vega-C rocket’s second stage.
One of the recommendations was to implement a (delta-)qualification of the nozzle with a new Carbon-Carbon throat insert material different from that previously used on the Zefiro40, the solid rocket booster of the Vega-C second stage. On 28 June 2023, a static firing test of the modified Zefiro40 engine took place at the test bench in Salto di Quirra in Italy. During the test the engine nozzle suffered significant damages.
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher has set up an Independent Enquiry Commission chaired by the ESA Inspector General, Giovanni Colangelo, and composed of experts from CNES, ASI, ESA, Arianespace and academia to understand the cause of the test anomaly and propose recommendations.
The Independent Enquiry Commission concluded that in the current design of the nozzle, the combination of the geometry of the Carbon-Carbon throat insert and the different thermo-mechanical properties of the new material caused progressive damage of other adjacent nozzle parts and a progressive degradation eventually leading to the nozzle’s failure.
In other words, the changes implemented based on the initial investigation that was completed in March did not work. The nozzle needs to redesigned, and will also require at least two more static fire engine tests to be certified.
At the moment ESA officials are predicting that Vega-C will resume launches in the fourth quarter of next year, but do not put any money on that prediction.
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