ESA promotes Vega’s evolution for independent European access to space

by Chris Bergin

Arianespace’s future ambitions in the launch services market will be focused on two new launch vehicles. The Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets will be tasked with covering a multitude of payload requirements and will evolve together via commonality of hardware. Vega-C is set to conduct her maiden flight in 2020 and is currently in the qualification phase. The first stage booster of Vega-C will also become the strap-on boosters for Ariane 6 as the two rockets facilitate independent European access to space.

Preparations for Vega-C’s debut moved into the qualification phase following a successful critical design review in March.

This latest phase will test and verify the design and manufacturing processes, assembly and flight hardware and software, and associated ground support systems.

The ArianeGroup has successfully test-fired its second P120C solid rocket motor, a step forward toward initial launches of the Vega-C light satellite launcher and the Ariane 6 heavy satellite launcher, the latter being the launcher that will ultimately replace the long-serving and successful Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

The P120C first stage solid was tested on the BEAP test stand at the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, firing for 135 seconds in a successful test.

The test of qualification motor 1 (QM-1) came six months after the all-new P120C’s first test, the firing of the development motor (DM) on July 16, 2018 and over four years after the program was initially approved as a common motor to power two different launch vehicle families, the Vega-C (common booster) follow-on to the Vega launcher and the Ariane 6.

It has been advertised by ESA that one final static fire test (QM-2) would be conducted in the summer. However, ESA noted that “the hot firing tests of the P120C first stage in Kourou, and the Zefiro 40 second stage in Sardinia qualify these solid rocket motors for flight,” in a release on Tuesday.

“Additionally aerodynamic wind tunnel tests, vibration, structural and shock tests have been performed. These milestones mark the completion of all engine and motor testing. ”

Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of ESA Space Transporation noted that all engines that will be used on Vega-C stages have now completed a successful test firing, noting that the next phase is to test integration between the pad and the new launch vehicle.

Reviews of the system and subsystems – integrating all launcher system and launch base aspects -have been successfully completed. This will be followed by a launch system preliminary requirements review planned mid-2019.

The P120C, which will be the first stage of the Vega-C launcher, as well as the strap-on booster for the Ariane 6 series, has the world’s largest monolithic carbon-fiber composite solid rocket booster casing and is 44 feet (13.5 meters) long, 11 feet (3.4 meters) wide.

Ariane 6 and Vega C – via ESA

In addition, the Ariane 6 is designed to use two or four P120C’s as strap-on boosters to offer a flexible configuration choice while offering similar capability to the Ariane 5 family at a much-reduced cost.

The new launch pad for the upgraded Ariane 6 is already deep into its construction phase, while the existing Vega pad has been upgraded in-situ. Mobile gantry cantilever reinforcements, platform shutters, a new mast sector and a new overhead traveling crane are now installed.

In a flood of releases and content on Tuesday, ESA and its partners promoted Vega-C’s vast array of mission capabilities, following from its 100 percent success rate with the original Vega rocket. These range from equatorial to Sun-synchronous orbits, from orbital to suborbital missions, from single to multiple payloads.

“Vega-C builds on these capabilities and will become the pillar of the Vega Space Transportation System, offering a range of payload carriers for different shapes and sizes of payloads ranging from 1 kg to 2300 kg, for ‘access to’, ‘operations in’, and ‘return from’ space,” noted ESA on Tuesday.

The current Vega vehicle will be in action again this summer with a proof of concept flight associated with its future evolution. Vega will deploy multiple small satellites using its new payload carrier system, the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, or SSMS, for the growing small satellites market.

“This rideshare launch will carry seven microsatellites and 35 CubeSats. The SSMS will also launch on Vega-C from 2020 offering 700 kg of extra payload capacity inside a larger fairing,” added ESA.

Additional payload adaptors include an enhancement to Vega’s Vespa payload adapter for dual passengers, and the Vampire for single large payloads.

The Space Rider system – a follow on to the test vehicle known as the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) – will provide payload return capability for Europe when launching with the Vega-C.

Developments are also underway for a Vega Electrical Nudge Upper Stage, Venus, which will provide the orbital transfer capability to satellites to extend its market reach with constellation deployment, lunar mission and in-orbit servicing.

ESA poster on Vega-C’s multiple mission elements

However, the evolution of Vega won’t be complete with Vega-C, with another advancement set to be the Vega-Evo (or Vega-E), which will take the vehicle past 2025, offering a family of configurations based on common building blocks. The Vega-Evo activities are running in parallel with Vega-C development.

This will allow for a family of configurations based on existing building blocks and those under development (P120C, P80, Z23, Z40, Z9, AVUM, VUS) capable of improving the system’s competitiveness for the normal Vega-C payload class and in the small–satellite market.

The main element of this evolution is a new European cryogenic upper stage powered by a 10 t-class liquid oxygen and methane expander cycle engine. This would replace the current Zefiro-9 and AVUM.

Vega-E, via ESA materials.

New technologies such as additive manufacturing will be evaluated and a new roll and attitude control system using hydrogen peroxide will be developed, with potential earlier applications on Vega-C and Space Rider.

In the meantime, the current Vega is preparing for her 15th mission, with the Falcon Eye 1 payload arriving at the launch site for its upcoming launch.

Falcon Eye 1 is a high-resolution Earth-imaging satellite for the United Arab Emirates. Built by Airbus Defense and Space with an optical imaging payload from Thales Alenia Space, Falcon Eye 1 is the first of two surveillance satellites ordered by the UAE’s military.

The VV15 mission for Vega is currently scheduled to launch next month.

Related Articles