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Space, an Italian engine will make the difference

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Space, an Italian engine will make the difference

A few days ago, at the Salto di Quirra shooting range, in Sardinia, an M10 engine passed its first test brilliantly. It is an important stage for any engine, let alone one destined to bypass the atmosphere.

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Although few have noticed it – excluding some insiders and the Minister Vittorio Colao – the verification carried out at the Space Propulsion Test Facility wrote an important date in the annals of the space in Italy: for the first time in Europe a space engine powered by liquid oxygen and methane has proven that it can do what it was designed for by the Italian’s engineers Married. The same ones who, from Colleferro, on the outskirts of Rome, have already written significant pages in European space history, above all thanks to the over ten-year successes of Vega, the light rocket that has become a reference in the field of commercial transport in low orbit, that is, among the shares closest to our planet (from three hundred to one thousand kilometers).


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Stephan Israël, CEO of Arianespace (which of Avio is one of the main partners): in Rome he wanted to meet the press to talk about the upcoming plans of his company, the “more space” segment of the French giant ArianeGroup (of Airbus and Safran).

It is the testimony of a “dynamic moment” – Israel called it – “which makes us optimistic”. A moment in which the ideas and activities of those who, in the Old Continent, conceive and implement rockets abound. Never before have the projects of new pitchers been talked about as in recent months, accomplices competition from private individuals overseas – first and foremost Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos – a new approach to space characterized by miniaturization of technologies and cost reduction and, last but not least, one guerra which until an unknown date has excluded from the market one of the most reliable rockets, the Russian Soyuz (moreover in the Arianespace catalog, which is not without consequences on the orders already contracted).

Your astronaut friend

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April 27, 2022

Although “we have no announcements”, Israël clarified to the press, the group’s upcoming innovations, which also include Avio’s manufacturing activities, are not lacking: in chronological order, 2022 will mark the debut of Vega Cwhere the “C” stands for “Consolidation”, the new born in Colleferro, destined to improve the performance of its predecessor and make them more commercially competitive: made up of three solid propellant stages and one liquid propellant stage, Vega C will be more flexible and versatile of Vega, having the ability to carry 90% of the satellites on the market of the Earth’s orbit low compared to 50% of the Vega. An official date of his debut, the so-called maiden flight, there is not yet, but the European Space Agency and Avio, to which Arianespace will provide technical support, speak of a launch window opened at the end of June, in French Guiana.

The first stage of Vega C will be the new P120 C engine, that is the engine used as a booster for the “heavier” debut – in the strict sense – of Arianespace, that of Ariane 6, the awaited new generation of launchers made in Europe for the heaviest loads and to be escorted even beyond low orbit. It is no coincidence that Ariane 6, in configuration 64, that is the one with four boosters, has already been chosen to bring part of the 3,236 satellites of the Kuiper constellation by Amazon, designed to increase global access to broadband. Although the terms are not public, the contract includes 18 transport and it is estimated that each can cost $ 68 million to $ 110 million.

“The debuts of the two systems will be close together – said Israël – we expect Ariane 6 to reach space for the first time by the end of the year. The complementarity of the launchers will ensure that we satisfy any commercial need, giving great dynamism to the Arianespace offer. We also have industrial agreements with Avio to protect Vega’s interest with one governace clear and agreed “.

Not even too implicit, that of the manager seems to be an answer to those who, for some time, have been recognizing repeated attempts of Franco-German “coup” against the Italian space industry. Because even the less attentive shouldn’t miss it the scope of the market of space transport in the coming years: “The one accessible for Arianespace in the period 2021-2030 could be valid 3.35 billion dollars a year, that is 1.35 more than in the previous decade ”, explained Israël. A figure, at least according to the estimates of the French company, consisting of the launches of the large non-geostationary commercial constellations for 1670 million dollars (including the Kuiper served with Ariane 6), of the geostationary commercial satellites for 510 million (Ariane 6), European institutional satellites for 500 million (Ariane 6, Vega C), small commercial non-geostationary constellations for 350 million dollars (Vega C, Ariane 6) and non-geostationary export satellites for 215 million dollars (Vega C, Ariane 6 ).

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In other words, a rich and progressively growing dish, not for nothing at the basis of the aforementioned European ferment of extraterrestrial transport systems: thanks to private funds or public funding, for example ESA, there are many startups aiming at the market manned by Arianespace and Avio using different technologies and approaches: three are German (Isaar Aerospace, Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse), two British (Orbital Express Launch and Skyrora), different Spanish; there are those who, like the Welsh B2Space and the Iberian Zero 2 Infinity, are studying the launch of rockets raised by balloons, or carried by jets (the latter solution to the attention of the German Gaia Aerospace, the French Dark and the Spanish Celestia Aerospace). There is no shortage of avant-garde experiments, such as those of the Romanian Arca Space, which with funding from the European Community is developing a three-stage of which the first steam-powered, or by the Italian Sidereus Space Dynamics, by the less than thirty-year-old Mattia Barbarossa, which aims at the realization of a micro-launcher for the transport of loads of 30 kilograms.

Small satellites don’t mean mini or micro launchers“Points out the number one of Arianespace, responding to those who blame his group (and the whole of Europe) for a delay in the development of lighter rockets and in the reusability of technologies, made famous by the return to earth of SpaceX’s Falcon 9s.

“The small launcher market represents only 10%”, said Israël, “believing it cannot be satisfied by solutions ride-share and competitively priced it’s a bit too optimistic. This does not exclude that Ariane 6 and Vega C can be integrated by a micro or mini launcher to offer quick access to space and to some specific orbits “.

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In other words, the answer to Musk’s prodigious geo-returns or the avant-garde of micro-space transport systems, for Israël is twofold: “on the one hand we face the challenge with Maia, a reusable launcher (for loads up to half a ton, ed) of which we tackled the project with the establishment of a startup affiliated to the group. On the other hand, we expand the versatility of our offer with a dispenser such as SMS, already successfully tested in Vega’s VV16 mission “.

Acronym for Small Spacecraft Mission Service, is a modular adapter that allows you to load different satellites into the cone of the launcher, in order to distribute the costs among several customers and satisfy every operational need. “With its latest liquid propellant stage, Vega C will allow seven restarts, two more than its predecessor. They will therefore be feasible three orbital stages, that is, one more than in the past. For the customers it will be like having a bus, able to stop ever closer to the chosen destination: it is clear that the precision of delivery also brings advantages in an economic sense. The debut of SMS on Vega C should arrive as early as January 2023 “.

Of course, although the centrality of the sector in France is supported by the solid support of every government – a support to be attributed, first of all, to the status of atomic power -, the competition of space billionaires is a source of stimuli, but also of challenges: “SpaceX and Blue Origin have business models suitable for the American market, much wider than the European one. Do not underestimate, for example, that according to estimates published by the Washington Post, it will be more profitable for SpaceX to become a service provider than a space manufacturing: by 2025, approximately 25 billion dollars a year are expected to be collected from the internet services permitted by Starlink – now also available in Italy – and less than 5 from the exploitation of space vectors. Reusability is certainly the next step, but it must be requested and supported by the market, which in the European case means having a mega-constellation. At that point we can only take advantage of the change triggered by Musk and others like him ”.

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