Having successfully launched their first launcher rocket (Vega) for the Vega space programme in 2012, for missions in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), Italian aerospace company Avio is currently working with Ariane Group to launch the second rocket in the series – Vega C, which will have lift off mid next year.
The programme, which is primarily contracted by Avio, is sponsored by the European Space Agency; who approved plans for a second rocket (Vega C) in December 2014.
Building on the success of the original Vega rocket, which completed several LEO missions over the course of 2012-17, Avio and Ariane Group are now in the final stages of building Vega C; which is promising to be even more powerful and cost-effective than its predecessor.
The Vega space programme dates back to the 1990s and officially became a European Space Agency programme in June 1998. The main objective of the programme is to provide Europe with a safe, reliable and cost-effective way of launching multiple smaller satellites into LEO, to complement the work of larger satellites. Several EU countries are participating in the programme, including: Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Avio so far have been the main contractor responsible for building the launchers for the programme. The first small launcher, Vega, was successfully launched in 2012 and completed its final mission in 2017. Vega C, the second small launcher in the programme, will take off next year and a third launcher (Vega E) is set to take off in 2024.
Vega C will carry on the work of Vega, but on a much more powerful and cost-effective basis. Demand for satellite-based radars has shot up dramatically in recent years and it’s estimated that Vega C could increase the market for LEO satellites from 50 to 90%. Currently, Vega has a workload capacity of 1,500kg – this will increase by 60% with Vega C, which will be able to carry up to 2,200kg.
How does Vega C differ?
Upon first appearance, Vega C looks very similar to the original Vega rocket and has in fact recycled several parts from the original spacecraft. Like its predecessor, Vega C will consist of three stages based on solid-propellant engines and one stage based on a liquid-propellant engine:
Stage 1: New P120C solid propellant motor
Stage 2: New Z40 solid propellant motor
Stage 3: Reused Z9 solid propellant motor motor
Stage 4: Modified Attitude and Vernier Upper Module
However, the design of Vega C is much more evolved.
One of the biggest developments has been on the main motor – P120C. Engineers have taken the original Vega motor (P80) and increased it in size to 11.7 meters long and 3.4 meters in diameter; making it the largest single-body carbon-fibre solid fuel engine in the world! This will give Vega C the capability to carry 143 tonnes of solid fuel and produce an average of 4,500kN of thrust.
Similarly, engineers have used their knowledge from Vega to build an even more powerful second motor for Vega C. Z40, the second stage propulsion system in the Vega C configuration, has an improved structural design and will be able to withstand much higher pressures. It’s hoped that the Z40 engine will be reused later on for Vega E.
As well as this, Vega C will have a more advanced Attitude and Vernier Upper Module (AVUM+) than its predecessor. This is the only element made of aluminium. Made up of two parts, the propulsion system and the platform that houses the rockets’ avionics – this component is responsible for orbital positioning and thrust control during the final stages of flight.
Once final checks have taken place, Vega C will be sent to the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, where it will take off for its maiden voyage next year.