Space rider rendering in orbit

ESA Begins the Testing Phase of its Space Rider Vehicle

Space Rider Spacecraft developed by ESA obtained the approval to proceed to a new phase of tests, development, and assembling named Phase D

On June 20, ESA announced that its first reusable space vehicle named Space Rider obtained the approval to proceed to a new development step named Phase D, which consists of testing, building, and assembling the model. Some minor flight units have already been produced and delivered. Moreover, the core structures are expected to be delivered around mid-2024.

The closure of the Critical Design Review step took place on October 2022. If no problems occur during the Manufacturing Readiness Reviews of subsystems and various components, it will be possible to see the maiden launch of the Space Rider operated by ESA by the end of 2024 or the first quarter of 2025, aboard the Vega C launcher.


Development Phase D

Dante Galli, Space Rider Programme Manager at European Space Agency, explained that the scale-down test will undergo approximately 100 separate drop tests. Subsequently, the focus will shift to a full-scale test platform of the entire spacecraft itself.

An innovative technology will be adopted in order to break from an orbital speed of 28.800 km/h to a soft landing on a spaceport built in Kourou, French Guiana Space Center. In the coming weeks, some tests on a smaller parafoil will be carried out to develop future reliable tests of a full-scale parafoil of 70 m².

Rendering of Space Rider’s parafoil. Credits: ESA
Rendering of Space Rider’s parafoil. Credits: ESA

Furthermore, a new design for the gear has been developed. The space rider will be equipped with a single wheel in the front and two skids in the back. Such a design is the best option for good stability in case of crosswinds at landing.

“Moving to Phase D in development is a milestone for all spaceflight projects, and the Space Rider team is looking forward to putting our theory into practice on this unique project.”

Dante Galli, Space Rider program manager


Space Rider Features

The Space Rider has a future aimed at revolutionizing the way of access to space. It is an uncrewed spacecraft-robotic laboratory, capable of carrying up to 620 kg of payloads, that consists of two parts:

  • the orbital module, an extension to the Vega-C launcher’s fourth stage (AVUM+), that supplies the needs to fly around Earth;
  • the reentry module, a pressurized and dedicated hold that can manage experiments and payloads in space for at least two months before bringing them back to Earth. It also protects from the high heat flux that occurs while penetrating Earth’s atmosphere.

One main objective of the project is also to maximize the technologies already available to reduce the need for investment. As far as the service module is concerned, it was necessary to complete the AVUM+ with an additional module, named ALEK (AVUM Life Extension Kit). His role is to provide accommodation for the solar panels as well as housing all the avionics and control systems needed to manage the orbital phase.

Render of Space Rider spacecraft. Credits: Davide Galli
Render of Space Rider spacecraft. Credits: Davide Galli

The Space Rider is the first vehicle of this type ever built in Europe. Italy’s contribution to this project is outstanding thanks to the support of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) which sustains 75% of the total investments in the programme. All the main contractors are Italian: Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy for the development of the vehicle, and Telespazio and Altec for the ground segment.

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Beatrice Romeo

Beatrice Romeo

Master student in Aerospace Engineering.
Ocean activist and kitesurfing athlete.

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