A launch vehicle is a complex system conceived to deliver a payload to a given orbit by providing the right altitude and velocity for orbit injection. This has to be achieved at the mimumum launch cost possible and with the maximum reliability and overall quality of launch service.
Launchers are usually composed of several stages to optimise the payload mass to be delivered to orbit.
The main elements of a launcher are:
- the rocket propulsion system (liquid or solid) required to provide the thrust to reach orbit
- the structural elements needed to contain the propellant tanks and the payload and sustain all the loads (quasi-static, dynamic, thermal, acoustic and shock) encountered during its mission
- the guidance, navigation and control systems required to follow an established trajectory
- the various electrical sub-systems
Europe’s guaranteed access to space will likely rely, for the long-term, upon the Ariane-5 and Vega launch systems and their possible evolutions. The exploitation of Soyuz from Europe's Spaceport will complete the family of launchers exploited by Arianespace, enhancing the flexibility and competitiveness of its launch services. Evolutions of the Ariane 5 and Vega may be needed in the next decade to improve their capability to cope with future institutional needs and to enhance their competitiveness.
New and innovative research and technology will be required to ensure that a European Next Generation Launcher will be ready to be operational around 2020. This means examining possible future configurations of expendable launchers as well as the system concepts and technology needed for a reusable launcher vehicle.