Vega C. Credits: ESA/M.Pedoussaut

Avio signs new important contracts despite recent failure

Despite a major failure during VV22 mission, Avio signed some new important contracts for ASI and ESA leaving good hopes for the future of Italian space sector

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.

Two new contracts signed in the presence of Daniel Neuenschwander (Director od STS at ESA), Italian Minister Adolfo Urso and Giulio Renzo, CEO of Avio. Credits: Avio S.p.A
Two new contracts signed in the presence of Daniel Neuenschwander (Director of STS at ESA), Italian Minister Adolfo Urso and Giulio Renzo, CEO of Avio. Credits: Avio S.p.A

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.

Vega C rocket lifting off from Europe's Spaceport during its maiden launch in July 2022 for VV21 mission. Credits: ESA/S.Corvaja
Vega C rocket lifting off from Europe’s Spaceport during its maiden launch in July 2022 for VV21 mission. Credits: ESA/S.Corvaja

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.

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.

The IRIDE constellation program. Credits: ASI
The IRIDE constellation program. Credits: ASI

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.


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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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