On March 13, 2023, the Italian aerospace company Avio S.p.A signed, in collaboration with the Italian Government and ESA, two new contracts for a total value of €285 million. Those found are part of the Italian economic recovery plan (PNRR), financed by the European Union in the context of the wider “NextGenerationEU” financial program.
Avio’s Vega C rocket has also received the task to launch the Italian IRIDE constellation program, bringing so far to 15 the number of commissioned launches for the near future. This brings positive prospects only a few days after the completion of the investigation into the launch failure of last 22 December.
The internal investigation concluded that the failure of the VV22 mission was due to the rupture of an important component of the Zefiro-40 second stage engine. The throat insert, made of carbon-carbon material, was bought from an Ukraine company and its vulnerability wasn’t detected before its installation on the Vega-C. From now on Avio will replace the defective component with one directly produced by ArianeGroup.
This was the third failure in eight flights for a Vega rocket, the incident has raised many doubts and concerns at European level for the future of our independent access to space.
The two main programs
The European Space Agency (ESA) will act as Contracting Authority and will have the role of Technical Assistance. Avio will be the main industrial contractor, supported by an Italian industrial supply chain, research centers and universities.
The first program, called STS (Space Transport System), will focus on the development of a two-stage light rocket with liquid oxygen-methane propulsion and low environmental impact (potentially reusable). This project will be financed with €181.6 million until its completion. The vehicle will use a version of the M10 engine and will have a payload capacity of 200 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
However, Avio is already developing a three-stage rocket called Vega E, so it will be important to understand what path the company will take to build a competitive class of future (and hopefully reliable) light launchers. Both vehicles should take flight in 2026.
The second program, called HTE, is set to develop a new liquid oxygen and methane engine with high performance, high trust and low environmental impact. This project will cost €103.7 million until completion in 2026. According to Avio, the M60 will be an improved version of the M10 engine, already designed for the Vega E, and will have technological features similar to SpaceX’s Raptor engine.
“The goal of the two projects is to prepare the ground for future-generation space transportation systems, based on liquid propulsion with reduced environmental impact” Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio
Vega C will also launch the IRIDE program
On March 14, Arianespace announced that they signed a contract with ESA for the launch of the Italian IRIDE Earth observation constellation. The contract includes two Vega C launches with an option for a third one.
We are proud to announce at #SATShow a new contract signed with the Italian government for the deployment of the #IRIDE Earth observation constellation with 3 #VegaC launches to be scheduled from end of 2025 onwards!— Arianespace (@Arianespace) March 14, 2023
Take a look at our Press release 👇https://t.co/0VZiFH6kIp pic.twitter.com/137tFvS0UT
IRIDE is an innovative program funded by the Italian government and is composed of an end-to-end system that includes 36 LEO satellites, the ground operations infrastructure and many important services for the Italian public administration.
The mission’s main objective is to support the National Civil Protection and other institutions in the prevention of hydro-geological issues, fires, the protection of the coastline and the monitoring of infrastructures, air quality, weather conditions and climate changes.
The satellite constellation will take advantage of various technologies such as Synthetic Aperture Radars (SAR), and optical images with different resolutions and different frequency ranges, like panchromatic, multispectral or hyperspectral images.
For this project will participate the principal aerospace companies in Italy, like Thales Alenia Space Italia, Leonardo, Telespazio, OHB Italia, Argotec, D-Orbit and Avio itself.