SpaceX and Boeing, challenge between the stars. Musk’s rocket relaunches Avio and Leonardo


-> There race for commercial (and military) exploitation of space lights up the competition between American giants like Boeing and SpaceX, these days engaged in a kind of continues the run with the first that launched the X-37B automatic mini-shuttle from Cape Canaveral on 17 May, on its sixth secret mission, the first on behalf of the recently founded US Space Force, and the second that managed, again from the historical space base of NASA (the American space agency), to take off the first manned flight of the new Space Dragon reusable spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).

On board the Space Dragon (which will alternate with Boeing’s CST-100 in the future) Two NASA veterans, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, return to space for their third mission. NASA has focused heavily on the development of a mixed public-private commercial program that would allow to cut costs and develop new technology and to do so it has already awarded billionaire contracts to both companies.

Boeing has so far obtained around 4.8 billion to plan, develop and build the CST-100, while a SpaceX, a company headed by Elon Musk, also owner of Tesla and who has pledged to cut the cost per “paying passenger” to $ 23 million to launch (a third of the 76 million per astronaut that NASA paid in 2014 to the Russian space agency to use its Soyuz spacecraft, cost then dropped to around 70 million per astronaut) so far over 3.15 billion have gone for the Crew Dragon and more than 1.6 billion for the cargo version of the same spacecraft, which will bring supplies to ISS alternating with the Cygnus spacecraft of Orbital Sciences (to which another 1.9 billion went).

Figures that remain unapproachable on this side of the Atlantic, where ESA, the European Space Agency founded just 45 years ago (30 May 1975) has recently announced that the insiders “are returning to the European spaceport of Kourou, in French Guyana to resume preparations for the launches of the Vega and Ariane 5 missiles” and that “the construction of the new Ariane 6 launch platform has also been restarted”. Just the Vega missile, which this summer will bring a load of small satellites into space, using a new distributor called Small Spacecraft Mission Service, is a launcher for light loads in low Earth orbit developed in collaboration with ASI (the Italian space agency).

The Vega is a four-stage rocket, driven by as many engines (the P80 for the first stage, the Zefiro 23 for the second, the Zefiro 9 for the third and the Avum for the fourth), the first three of which were made by Avio, a company listed on the Milan stock exchange that this week announced an order from Mbda for a total value of over 50 million euros. It is, analysts of Equita Sim note, of a “minor” order which contributes to giving further medium-term visibility to the business. In all 2020 the orders expected by Avio should reach a total value of 700-775 million euros, against an order backlog of € 669 million at the end of 2019.

In addition to continuing the development of two new engines (the P120, for the new Ariane 5 rocket, and the Zefiro 40 for the new version of the Vega), Avio in the four-year period 2022-2025, a period for which it obtained 490 million funds from ‘ESA for the development of new launchers (including the Vega-E for whose study 53 million had already been obtained), will participate in the development of the first Italian-European reusable spacecraft, the Space Rider, for whose study so far about forty million have been assigned to Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy.

The latter is the ex Alcatel Alenia Space, renamed thus after the French Thales took over the entire participation in the two joint-ventures with Leonardo in the space sector from its compatriot Alcatel and alone invoices around 2.5 billion euros per year. In the “alliance for space” with the French Leonardo has 33% of Thales Alenia Space and 67% of Telespazio.

If the former is concerned with making satellites and orbiting structures, the latter is responsible for the development and management of ground systems, operations and satellite services. With its subsidiaries Leonardo, which a few days ago confirmed Alessandro Profumo as CEO he has been present for years in the main international space programs, such as Galileo, Copernicus and Cosmo-SkyMed, in the ExoMars, BepiColombo, Euclid and Rosetta missions, as well as in the Iss itself.

For Leonardo, space is a flagship, but with a relatively low weight: in 2019 the space sector Ebitda dropped to 39 million euros (from 58 million in the previous year and compared to 1,251 million at group levels) due to growing competition in the manufacturing sector and for 2020, before it broke out the Covid-19 pandemic, expectations were for 2020 overall in line with last year in terms of revenues but with a recovery in margins thanks to the expected recovery in the manufacturing sector and further improvements in the results of the services sector, i.e. of Telespazio.

Just Telespazio in these days has presented the Mistral project, funded by the Campania Region and involving companies and space research centers from Campania such as Ohb Italia, Cira, Euro.Soft, Ali, Tsd Space, Sab Aerospace, Srsed, Powerflex, Lead Tech, Antares, the universities of Naples Federico II and Parthenope, the Cnr and the Enea. Mistral (MIni-SaTellite with Avio-Lanciable Return capacity) will be an “intelligent” atmospheric return system through which you can retrieve a capsule attached to a multi-role and air-launched micro-space platform, weighing 40-50 kg .

An innovative project, which could also be used to reduce debris, supporting the return of end-of-life space systems, which demonstrates how our country is not only made up of football and tourism, but also of high-tech companies able to participate with a leading role in the race for the “space economy” which according to many analysts will increasingly characterize the years to come. And that is not necessarily destined to be “the last frontier” only of the big giants with stars and stripes.

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