CIÈNCIA

Spanish aerospace satellite gets lost in space

The rocket transporting Ingenio, valued at 200 million, deviates from orbit 8 minutes after lift-off

Eight minutes after lift-off, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Vega rocket was lost in space and with it Ingenio, the first Spanish-made Earth observation satellite and one of the aerospace industry's major bets. Thus, for reasons that are still unknown and that are being investigated, the expectations of the mission have vanished. And Pedro Duque's Ministry of Science is looking to see if it has taken out insurance to cover the incident. Behind the mission there is an investment of 200 million euros and the work of years of a team with Spanish funding and technicians who wanted to put into orbit a high-precision device to capture terrestrial images with very high resolution for multiple uses.

There was nothing to fear from any accident and the Vega, which also carried the French satellite Taranis, was launched at the appointed time, 2.52 am Spanish time, after the countdown in the space complex of Kuru, in French Guiana. But just after the first engine start, the ESA detected a deviation from the trajectory that put an end to the mission. The Spanish satellite was expected to break away after 54 minutes, when it reached an altitude of approximately 670 kilometres, to position itself in a synchronous helium orbit and begin to rotate around the Earth at a frequency of just over 14 times a day.

While the ESA is reviewing the telemetry data to find out the causes of the incident, through Twitter the Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation, Pedro Duque, has regretted the loss of the mission but has assessed that as a result of the project it has been possible to develop technologies that are useful for industry, while enabling Spanish companies in the sector to bid for international contracts.

Led and financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation through the Center for Industrial Development, Ingenio was the great Spanish hope to position itself in the sector. The satellite had to take care of obtaining images of the Earth thanks to a sophisticated system of cameras that could focus on different places and access all corners of the planet in just three days. These images had to be used for careful mapping, facilitating the management of natural resources or alerting of the destruction of natural heritage. The clients of these images would be both civil, institutional and governmental Spanish entities but also, potentially, other European users within the framework of the European Union's Copernicus programme and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, as explained earlier by Pedro Duque's ministry.

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