Global Space Activities: Missions and Technological Developments
As Europe’s launch sector continues substantial development to grow more competitive in the global market, Arianespace’s Vega launcher—manufactured by ELV (a joint venture between the Italian Space Agency and Avio)—has launched a total of 12 times since 2012, all successfully. Over the reporting period in particular (including up to August 2018), Vega launched three times in 2017 and once in 2018. Looking to the future, and as part of overall efforts to increase the Vega’s competitiveness on the launch market, ESA and Avio have been developing since 2016 a new Small Spacecraft Mission System adaptor (SMSS), which can deliver cubesats and microsats up to 400 kg to orbit. In 2018, Arianespace secured four customers on the first SMSS, scheduled for 2019, including Spaceflight Inc. (American), ISIS (Dutch), and the Italian Sitael and D-Orbit. The SMSS is intended for one to two flights per year. Moreover, the P120 C engine under development by ArianeGroup (as of July 2017, the corporate name of Airbus Safran Launchers was changed to ArianeGroup) and Avio, intended for both the next-generation Vega C and Ariane 6, is to be produced in up to 35 units per year and “will provide scale meaningful enough to drive prices lower, according to Arianespace and Avio officials”. Lastly, with the Vega C still scheduled for its first flight in 2019, Avio is also developing a further launcher, known as Vega E (Evolution), expected for launch in 2024; ESA has additionally committed to the latter in a contract with Avio valued at 53 million €. According to SpaceNews.com, this reportedly represents only a “first tranche”.