Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aviation Week & Space Technology July 11, 2011

With Europe's new Vega rocket slated to debut before the end of the year, prime contractor ELV is pushing a plan to evolve the small-satellite launcher for deep-space missions to the Moon and beyond. Vega prime contractor ELV, a joint venture between Italian rocket propulsion manufacturer Avio and the Italian space agency (ASI), is studying a Vega derivative that could carry relatively heavy payloads to the tune of 700 kg (1,540 lb.) to near-Earth bodies, including the Moon, Mars, Venus and Jupiter. Financed by the 19-nation European Space Agency-with 63% of the funds coming from Italy-Vega is currently designed to deliver science and Earth-observation satellites weighing up to 1,500 kg to 700-km (440-mi.) orbits (see mockup below on a launch pad at the European Spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana). However, ASI head Enrico Saggese confirms Vega could grow to meet relatively heavy payload requirements for exploration missions. He says Italy is prepared to support the evolution. Initial estimates suggest the larger Vega derivative could be operational as early as 2015 for around �55 million ($91 million) per launcher. To keep costs low, ELV would use innovative approaches to mission management and rely heavily on existing technologies while incorporating new ones. For example, the modified Vega could make use of an electric power module that combines Hall thrusters and solar panels. A new payload adapter, a navigation system that includes a star tracker and general radiation hardening of the vehicle are also in the offing.