ESA is on track to develop its fleet of launch vehicles of the future. The agency’s Ariane 6 and Vega C launchers are slated to be highly competitive in the world market, offering reasonable prices for launch services. According to ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner, these boosters should secure autonomous access to space for Europe.
“Vega C and Ariane 6 are very important to secure Europe’s autonomous access to space. Considering the prosperous worldwide development of Vega C and Ariane 6, based on very successful history, these boosters should also be competitive in the market,” Wörner told Astrowatch.net.
Last week, Wörner arrived to Colleferro, Italy, to visit a facility of Avio – an Italian company responsible for the development of the future ESA launch vehicles. Avio will manufacture Vega C and will contribute towards building the Ariane 6 rocket. The company will provide a newly designed solid propulsion engine for both launchers and will also develop Vinci and Vulcain liquid oxygen turbopumps for Ariane 6.
“I came to Colleferro to see how the work was coming on for the major upcoming European projects involving a family of launchers that will include Vega C and Ariane 6. It was really impressive to see how the boosters are produced here at Avio,” Wörner said.
The company has its facilities in Italy, France and French Guiana, employing over 800 people. Together with its subsidiary ELV, it is developing next-generation launchers, which according to the company’s statement, would make access to space more flexible and cost-effective.
“Avio as one of the most important companies to secure the success of Vega C and Ariane 6. It is a very successful company with impressing industrial facilities,” Wörner told SpaceFlight Insider.
Avio is currently working on the new solid propulsion engine, called P120C. It will serve as the first stage for Vega C and Ariane 6. Vega C will have one P120C engine while Ariane 6 will be fitted with two P120C motors in the “62” variant of this launcher and will feature an additional two in the “64” configuration. The company also develops the new Zefiro 40 engine and a composite material made of pre-impregnated carbon fiber that will be used for this booster. Zefiro 40 will be the second stage of the Vega C launcher.
“We were able to show our guests the recent developments and success we are achieving in liquid space propulsion, particularly with methane-liquid oxygen. We are convinced that space propulsion of the future will hinge on this very field,” said Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio.
Vega C is designed to further improve the market position of the transport services of small satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The “C” version differs from Vega by using P120 as first rocket stage instead of P80. The new variant aims to increase the load capacity of the orbital launcher by up to 50 percent. First launch of this booster is planned for late 2018.
Ariane 6 will be 207 feet (63 m) tall and 18 feet (5.4 m) in diameter. The “62” configuration will weigh around 500 metric tons at liftoff and is intended mainly for government and scientific missions. It will be capable of launching up to 5 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Ariane 64 will have a liftoff weight of around 800 metric tons and is intended for commercial dual-satellite launches of up to 10.5 metric tons into GTO. Maiden orbital flight of Ariane 6 is currently scheduled for 2020.