'Exceptionally unfavorable winds' at high altitudes are blamed for once again pushing back the launch of 53 satellites on a European Vega rocket. The rideshare mission, called the Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) proof-of-concept flight, is now scheduled to launch on Aug. 17 — the latest in a series of delays this year.
Arianespace's most recent launch campaign for the SSMS mission, also known as VV16, would have seen the Vega rocket lift off June 18 for its first space voyage since a Vega launch failure in July 2019. Strong high-altitude winds forced Arianespace to delay the launch from June 18 to June 27, and then to June 28.
"With no improvement in the weather situation expected during the short term, Arianespace has decided to postpone Flight VV16 until August 17, 2020, when the forecast is expected to be more favorable based on modeling of the winds," Arianespace said. "The interim period will be used to recharge batteries of the launcher and the satellites, under all the required safety conditions."
It's been tough to get this Vega rocket off the ground. Originally scheduled to launch in August 2019, the SSMS mission was delayed indefinitely when a Vega rocket failed to launch the United Arab Emirates' FalconEye1 Earth-observation satellite a few weeks earlier.
Arianespace investigated the cause of the failure and rescheduled the VV16 mission for March of this year. But then coronavirus pandemic interrupted launch preparations at the Guiana Space Center, and Arianespace had to delay the launch once again to ensure the safety of its personnel and the community.
With that said, Arianespace said it still expects to meet its goal of flying three Vega rockets this year. The next two Vega launches, VV17 and VV18, are both currently scheduled to lift off in September.
In the meantime, Arianespace has other rockets to launch. The company's next mission, scheduled for July 28, will use an Ariane 5 rocket to launch two Intelsat satellites into a higher, geostationary orbit than Vega's satellite destination. The rocket will track eastward for its launch trajectory and won't be affected by the persistent high-altitude winds, Arianespace said.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace