Europe is moving forward with its small unmanned space shuttle project: the European Space Agency signed a contract with industry on Thursday for the preliminary development of this reusable transport system called Space Rider.
The contract signed in Paris with Thales Alenia Space and the Italian company ELV (European Launch Vehicle), which builds the small European Vega rocket, amounts to 36.7 million euros.
Space Rider will be launched by the future Vega C and deployed in low Earth orbit from 2021.
The aim of the project is to provide Europe with an “independent, affordable and reusable” space transportation system to organize roundtrips of various loads in near-Earth space, according to ESA.
“It will be like a small robotic space shuttle, integrated with the rocket Vega C”, says to AFP Giorgio Tumino, project manager at ESA.
This transport system will combine an orbital service module and a re-entry module.
“This will allow us to create a European space laboratory to carry out microgravity experiments, in-orbit demonstrations, technology validations for all kinds of applications in the fields of Earth observation, science, telecommunications , and robotic exploration, “says Giorgio Tumino.
The atmospheric reentry module will be based on the European IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) prototype vehicle, which proved its worth in 2015. Thales Alenia Space is responsible for its development.
IXV, which was a simple re-entry module, will be modified to bring charges into orbit and bring them back to Earth.
The service module will be derived from the upper stage (Avum) of the Vega C rocket. Equipped with a motor, it will be modified so that it remains in orbit as much as desired.
This module will be developed by ELV, owned 70% by the Italian Avio and 30% by the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
“This integrated system will allow to go into orbit, operate in orbit and return to earth, for a total of six missions,” said Giorgio Tumino.
Space Rider will be launched from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou and can carry loads up to 800 kg.
“This European research laboratory will be able to meet the needs of both institutions and private companies, and pharmaceutical companies have already expressed interest in testing molecules on this platform,” added Tumino, who was already responsible for the IXV project.