Volvo Aero accepts blame for faulty part that brought down Ariane-5

Swedish company Volvo Aero has acknowledged that an engine nozzle it supplied for Ariane-5 might have been the cause of the European satellite launcher's failed maiden flight last month

However a spokesman for the company has been quoted in a report saying that Ariane engineers were testing uncharted water. Last week the Inquiry Board appointed to investigate the failure of Flight 157 submitted its report to Arianespace. Readers will recall that mission controllers were compelled to destroy the Ariane-5 heavy rocket only minutes into its first flight on 11 December.

The board's findings confirmed that all preparatory and countdown operations for Flight 157 had gone off normally, as did the flight sequence until the separation of the solid boosters. The report identified the occurrence of a leak in the Vulcain 2 nozzle's cooling circuit during this first flight phase, followed by a critical overheating of the nozzle - which led to a loss of its integrity.

This resulted in a major imbalance in the thrust of the Vulcain 2 engine due to the nozzle's deterioration, leading to a loss of control over the launcher's trajectory. The board concluded its report stating that the most probable cause of the failure of Flight 157 was the simultaneous occurrence of two aggravating factors: The degraded thermal condition of the nozzle due to fissures in the cooling tubes, and non-exhaustive definition of the loads to which the Vulcain 2 engine is subjected during flight. The board also noted that it would be difficult to simulate these additional loads during ground tests.

Meanwhile, Ariane 4 is on schedule for a 11 February launch.

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