The return of Vega


Vega is ready to take off again. And in a big way: in the night between 18 and 19 June the European rocket will usher in a launch system Brand new. It is the so-called Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) of the European Space Agency, service for the launch of little ones satellites.

A cutting-edge technology, which will allow us to inaugurate a kind of rocket sharing – spatial version of the now affirmed car sharing. In this way a large number of cubesat it can be transported using the same platform, with a significant reduction in costs.

Cubesats are nanosatellites slightly larger than a shoebox and increasingly used in the space sector for telecommunications and Earth observation. To date, the launch of these small satellites has largely depended on so-called passages piggyback, or linked to the launch of a satellite main. But availability was often limited, and the demand for cubesat was starting to outpace the supply of space on launchers.

For this reason, in recent years, several companies in collaboration with space agencies have developed programs that offer third-party companies the possibility of sending small satellites into orbit. Even going to online booking systems for a ride on the next rocket, as the program offers SmallSat by SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company, which has just sent another 58 satellites to the Starlink network, is also the one that aims to make routine launches of small satellites, with the aim of reaching two liftoffs per month.

ESA’s SSMS launch system is there European response to this growing demand for flights low cost for small satellites.

«The market for small satellites is growing. Europe can play a growing and solid role – he comments Fabio Caramelli of ESA, project manager and creator of the SSMS system – when we manage to maintain a quality standard but also competitive from an economic point of view. We aim to increasingly standardize the launch missions of small satellites ».

With Thursday’s mission, codenamed VV16, Vega returns to fly after almost a year of downtime initially due to failure last July and then to Covid-19 pandemic. The incident, which however occurred after 14 consecutive successes from 2012 to 2019, was rebuilt by the independent commission of inquiry established by Esa and Arianspace.

Now the European rocket is ready to go further, kicking off one new era of cubesat transportation. The mission, in fact, says ESA, will be the first entirely dedicated to small satellites in rideshare, transported by sharing the same carrier. The liftoff of the Vega launcher will take place from the European spaceport of Kourou, in French Guiana, when in Italy it will be 3:51 at night. The rocket will launch into orbit simultaneously 53 satellites for 8 European countries.

Maximizing the number of satellites on each Vega launch reduces the cost for each customer who decides to participate in the formula rideshare. SSMS optimizes the available space thanks to one modular design, which uses a technology with sandwich panels in aluminum covered with carbon fiber. This makes the platform both light and rigid. The companies Bercella in Italy e Sat Aerospace in the Czech Republic they designed and manufactured this modular dispenser for Avio, the Italian company that conceived, designed and manufactured the Vega launcher, which later became part of the ESA launcher family.

«From a technological point of view – continues Fabio Caramelli – the key word is simplification: the challenge of SSMS is to manage a very high number of commands and requirements with a fast and efficient system».

The SSMS system is also very flexible. It can accommodate any combination from 0.2 Kg of the cubesat ai 500 Kg mini-satellites, organizing the space available according to your needs.

For VV16 the Vega team will use a configuration called Flexi-3, of a total weight of 330 Kg. Once in space, the SSMS dispenser will release the satellites on board following a coordinated sequence, a about 500 Km above the Earth.

And pending the return of Vega, the gaze is already turned to the future. «From an industrial and commercial point of view – concludes Fabio Caramelli – SSMS is now an integral part of the Vega product package. From a technological and development point of view we are now moving on to a later stage, working on the SSMS system that will fly on Vega C».

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