Skip to main content

Vega rocket's 53-satellite launch delayed to August

'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.

Persistent bad weather conditions at the Guiana Space Center forced officials to take a break from continual launch attempts for Vega and its 53-satellite mission, Arianespace said in a statement

Video: Multiple satellites to launch on Vega rocket's return to flight
Meet Vega, Europe's new rocket (photos) 

In preparation for Europe's first rideshare mission, flight VV16, Vega's upper composite containing 53 satellites secured on the new Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) dispenser move to the launch zone for integration with the launch vehicle at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on June 12, 2020.  (Image credit: P. Baudon/ESA/CNES/Arianespace/Optique Vidéo du CSG)

"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.

An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch 53 small satellites for the European Space Agency in a rideshare flight from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana in June 2020. It's the first Vega launch since a July 2019 failure. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.