With a launcher and a reusable spaceplane under development, more people will be sent to space for space tourism in the near future.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has poured in 89.7 million euros ($106.7 million) to jumpstart the development of a new launcher and spaceplane. The former will be a newly advanced iteration of the Vega launcher that will be called Vega E (Vega Evolution), while the latter is a spaceplane demonstrator that will succeed the one that flew in 2015.
The Vega E and Space Rider contracts, according to manufacturer Avio, are both the first tranche for their overall development.
Both Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy of Italy’s space industry will lead consortiums for both space-designed transportation.
The 89.7 million euros is split between Vega E and Space Rider at 53 million euros and 36.7 million euros, respectively.
What You Need to Know about the Vega Evolution
It will be developed along with Vega C, a rocket that is slated to fly its first maiden launch in 2019.
Building both rockets concurrently and simultaneously is made possible with the fact that the Vega E is largely based on the same building blocks that were used on Vega. The only difference is that there are four stages instead of just three.
The upper stage of the Vega E will also be “Europeanized” instead of Ukrainian.
An ESA official said during a briefing with reporters that the reason for bifurcation is due to the agency’s inability to meet both short term and long term goals of just one rocket.
As a solution, the agency decided to increase the amount of payload that the Vega can carry into orbit. This is according to the ESA’s Space Transportation Development programs manager for the Vega and Space Rider Giorgio Tumino.
The current iteration of Vega is 800 kilograms less than the lift capacity to low Earth orbit of Vega C which is at 2,300 kilograms.
The Vega today also uses the Ukraine-supplied Attitude and Vernier Upper Module (AVUM) that, Tumino said, will be “Europeanized” as part of ESA’s objective. But because developing the upper stage engine can take up to four years, the Vega will continue to use AVUM until the agency can “Europeanize what is not European”.
With the new Vega E, AVUM and Zefiro-9 third stage will be replaced with something more environmentally friendly. The fuel will be based on liquid oxygen and methane and not UDMH (bipropellant with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine), while the oxidant will be NTO (nitrogen tetroxide).
With the ability to reignite more often, the new upper stage will also make it possible to perform more orbital maneuvers.
What You Need to Know about the Space Rider
In a statement, Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italy, said that Space Rider will pave the way to many challenging applications, “including reusable stages, point-to-point flights, spaceplanes and even space tourism.”
The spaceplane will use the technology found from ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) and will be able to lift 800 kilograms to LEO for missions that will run for up to a couple of months.
One remarkable difference with the new vehicle is that it is designed to land on the ground.
Thales Alenia Space has been tasked to build the reentry module of the Space Rider based on the IXV.