ESA is working with industry towards the first flight of Europe’s Vega-C launch vehicle for more launches, with increased performance, reaching multiple orbits at a similar cost to Vega.
Vega-C is a single body rocket about 35 m high with a mass at liftoff of 210 tonnes. It is able to place about 2200 kg in a reference 700 km-polar orbit. This will meet the needs of European institutions and industry.
Using a new range of payload carriers, Vega-C will be able to accommodate cargo of different shapes and sizes ranging from multiple small satellites as small as one kilogram up to a single large payload.
Ongoing developments will extend Vega-C capabilities to include in-orbit operations, and return missions using ESA's fully integrated Space Rider reentry vehicle.
Participating States in Vega-C development are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Vega-C is based on the existing Vega launch vehicle. It comprises four stages: three solid propellant stages, an upper fourth stage powered by a reignitable liquid-propellant engine, and a payload fairing.
The ogive-shaped fairing at the top of Vega-C is 3 m in diameter and over 9 m tall. Made of carbon fibre-polymer composite and ‘cured’ in an industrial oven, this structure protects satellites from the thermal, acoustic, and aerodynamic stresses at liftoff and on the ascent to space.
The upper stage AVUM+, or Attitude Vernier Upper Module, ensures attitude control and precise orbital positioning and is designed for extended stays in space. The AVUM+ has a propellant mass of 0.74 t and the main engine will provide an average thrust of 2.45 kN. The reignition capability of the AVUM+ allows Vega-C to reach a range of orbits to deliver multiple payloads on a single mission. Thrusters will typically burn one, two or more times to reach the required orbits. After separation of the payload(s), there will be a final boost to deorbit the upper stage, so that it burns up high in Earth's atmosphere over the ocean.
The third stage Zefiro-9, derived from Vega, burns 10 t of solid propellant.
The second stage powered by the new Zefiro-40 (Z40) motor contains about 36 t of solid propellant, providing an average thrust of 1100 kN.
The first stage P120C motor is one of the largest monolithic carbon-fibre solid-propellant rocket motors ever built in one piece. Its development relies on new technologies derived from those of P80, the current first stage motor of Vega, to provide a significant increase in thrust at liftoff. The P120C will also be used as the side boosters on the Ariane 6 rocket, creating an opportunity for Europe to scale up production by using it on two launch vehicles in parallel.
Vega-C mission capabilities
Vega-C’s range of adapters makes this a very flexible launch vehicle capable of responding to market needs.
Routine dedicated rideshares to space for small satellites.
The Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) dispenser will allow dedicated rideshares to space. The SSMS can be configured to accommodate any combination of 1 kg CubeSats up to 400 kg mini satellites; from a main large satellite with smaller companions, to multiple small satellites, or dozens of individual CubeSats.
The Vespa-C payload adapter, used for dual passengers with a mass above 400 kg, takes advantage of the larger volume available in the Vega-C fairing.
Single large passenger
The Vampire will be used for single large payloads with possible combination with the smaller payloads on the SSMS multiple payload dispenser.
The Space Rider system under development will be launched on Vega-C and use the AVUM+ upper stage capabilities to provide in-orbit operations for payload return capability.
Orbital transfer capability
Developments are under way for a Vega Electrical Nudge Upper Stage, Venus, which will provide the orbital transfer capability to satellites to extend its market reach with constellation deployment, lunar mission, and in-orbit servicing.
Future evolutions of the Vega launch system will further increase competitiveness beyond 2025 offering a family of configurations based on common building blocks. These activities run in parallel with the Vega-C development.
Vega-C will be launched from Europe’s Spaceport, in Kourou, French Guiana (South America).
The Vega launch complex has been modified to accommodate the new launch system. For example, the Vega mobile gantry now has a more powerful travelling crane, new cantilever reinforcements, platform shutters, a new mast sector and pallets, while modified fluid services have been installed on the launch pad.
These modifications have been made in such a way to keep the pad and gantry compatible with both vehicles during the transition period when launches of Vega will be alternated with Vega-C.
Roles and responsibilities
ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall Vega-C launch system, while industry is building the rocket with Avio as prime contractor and design authority.
The P120C solid rocket motor that is to be used by both Ariane 6 and Vega-C, is co-developed by ArianeGroup and Avio, on behalf of their 50/50 joint venture Europropulsion.
France’s space agency, CNES, is preparing the Vega-C launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
Arianespace will be responsible for Vega-C commercial operations from Europe's Spaceport.