Europe’s new heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket exploded three minutes into its maiden flight late on Wednesday, destroying two satellites and showering debris into the Atlantic Ocean.
In a fiercely competitive space launch market, the failure is a catastrophe for Arianespace. Three of the 14 Ariane 5 launches to date have now been total failures.
Early reports suggest that the rocket’s newly modified Vulcain-2 main engine may have suffered a problem after take-off at 2221 GMT from the Kourou space port in French Guiana. The engine’s performance decreased severely before the rocket veered off course. Once the rocket deviates from its trajectory, an on-board self-destruct system is programmed to detonate.