The Vega VV23 mission lifted off on October 9, at 01:36 UTC from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. At the conclusion of the launch, it seemed that everything had proceeded according to plan with the successful release of the two main payloads (THEOS-2 and FORMOSAT-7R TRITON) and the ten CubeSats constituting the secondary payload.
Our Flight #VV23 officially is a success! 🚀— Arianespace (@Arianespace) October 9, 2023
To learn more, take a look at our press release:https://t.co/JewW70W50z@GISTDA @TASA_Taiwan @AirbusSpace @TyvakNanoSat @Avio_Group @esa @CNES @EuropeSpacePort
Shortly after the end of the main launch operations, some doubts emerged about the failure to release all ten smaller satellites as not all of them had been detected by radar and ground systems. In a press release published by Arianespace after the launch, the company didn’t confirm the successful deployment of the last 2 CubeSats from the Spacecraft Mission Service (SMS) dispenser.
As reported by Andrew Parsonson, for European Spaceflight, the two secondary payloads (ESTCube-2 and ANSER-Leader CubeSats) are likely failed to separate from their respective deployers and are presumed to have burned up in the atmosphere while still attached to the rocket’s upper stage, or, more unlikely, they have deployed but in an unpredictable way and direction.
According to European Spaceflight, in an email sent to the satellite teams, Arianespace stated:
“Following the VEGA VV23 launch last Sunday, ARIANESPACE has now the strong suspicion that your satellites ESTCube-2 and ANSER-Leader were unfortunately not separated from their respective deployers.”
Arianespace didn’t respond to a request made by Space Voyaging about the situation.*
Arianespace also explained that there are three possible elements that confirm the failure. The first is that there was no telemetric signal of the release of payloads. The second is that NORAD (The North American Aerospace Defense Command) detected ten objects and not twelve as it should have happened with the VEGA VV23 mission and that the teams of engineers involved in the mission were unable to establish communication with the satellites despite “extended efforts”.
Lost payloads: ESTCube-2 and ANSER-Leader
ESTCube-2 was a small Cubesat built by the Estonian Student Satellite Foundation that was supposed to monitor Estonia’s vegetation level. The main concept and functioning is the solar sail applied to this small satellite, based on a series of aluminum filaments, a few meters long, which are run by electric currents and are supposed to interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, slowing down the satellite and allowing its safe return.
ANSER (Advanced Nanosatellite Systems for Earth Observation Research) was supposed to be a cluster of 3 Cubesats working together on a common Earth Observation mission. Their aim is to obtain images of the Earth in the visible and near-infrared and in particular on the quality of the water (presence of pollutants or algae) over the Iberian region.
However, it seems that, despite the lack of one of the three Cubesat, the mission can still continue.
*UPDATE Oct. 19, 10:00 UTC: Arianespace has replied to our request with the following statement:
“For the moment, we are awaiting the results of the investigation.”