An Arianespace's Vega Rocket just minutes before take-off from its new launch pad

A military spy satellite has come crashing down to earth after the failure of its launch rocket, sending the expensive payload into the Atlantic. The UAE-owned satellite was intended for dual-use, meaning both military and civilian reconnaissance applications—and on the military side, a UAE satellite would have been charged with monitoring Iran.

For the UAE, monitoring Iranian movements in the Gulf is critical to national security. Iran views the UAE as part of the axis lined up against it, alongside the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia. In losing its latest satellite, the UAE has lost a major surveillance advantage in the region.

The European Vega rocket had been launched from French Guiana on Wednesday evening (July 10) to put the Falcon Eye 1 spy satellite into orbit—with an identical satellite due to launch soon. But two minutes after take-off, the mission suffered a catastrophic failure.

Arianespace, the French launch service provider in charge of Wednesday night’s mission, declared a failure minutes after the 98-foot-tall (30-meter) Vega rocket took off from the Guiana Space Center on the northeastern coast of South America.

The four-stage Vega rocket lifted off from the European-run Guiana Space Centre at 9:53:03 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0153:03 GMT Thursday) after a five-day delay caused by unfavourable high-altitude winds over the spaceport.

The Vega rocket aimed to place the 2,638-pound (1,197-kilogram) Falcon Eye 1 spacecraft into a near-circular sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 379 miles (611 kilometres).

The Vega launcher fired off its launch pad with some 680,000 pounds of thrust and turned north to place the Falcon Eye 1 payload into the targeted polar orbit. The mission was expected to last 57 minutes from liftoff through deployment of the Falcon Eye 1 spacecraft.

The light-class Vega rocket is one of three launchers operated by Arianespace from the Guiana Space Center, alongside the medium-lift Russian-made Soyuz launcher and the heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.

Buoyed by a flawless record going into Wednesday night’s mission, the Vega rocket has found a niche in launching Earth observation satellites for European governments and foreign customers. Before Wednesday night’s failure, the Vega rocket was 14-for-14, having launched satellites to monitor the environment, study Earth’s climate and test new space technologies.