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Space Rider, Europe’s first reusable space transportation vehicle, to be launched in 2022

Space Rider launch

The preliminary design review stage of Space Rider was completed recently and it is expected that by the end of 2019, its critical design review will be completed as well. Space Rider would be launched from Kourou, French Guiana, in 2022.

First mooted in 2016, ESA’s Space Rider reentry vehicle is capable of providing a return to Earth and landing. It will complement the current launch options of Ariane and Vega.  

Launched aboard Vega-C, the main purpose of Space Rider will be to serve as a space laboratory that can operate for more than two months at a stretch in low obits. After the duration is complete, it will again enter the Earth’s surface and land, so that scientists can look into its payloads. Post minimal changes, Space Rider will be again ready for a new mission with a new payload.

Space Rider launch

Space Rider merges reusability, in-orbit operations and transportation, and the ability to safely land close to populated areas. These new developments will open up a host of opportunities for the European space sector and propel market expansion.

Maximum 800 kg of payloads can be fitted in the cargo that has a 1200 litre volume and offers 600 watts of power. It also has fair thermal, control and data-handling potential.

Space Rider will facilitate a slew of experiments in microgravity, open opportunities for educational missions, and help prove technologies for Earth observation, science, telecommunication and robotic exploration.

“Space Rider is Europe’s first reusable space transportation vehicle. This fascinating challenge is honing our skills in a range of cutting-edge technologies and this will strengthen our position in this competitive market,” says Jose Longo, ESA’s Space Rider Development Programme Manager.

Space Rider will also offer a unique advantage to non-space companies who want to make a foray in space business but do not have the requisite technical expert base.

The Space Rider system is an adaptation of Vega-C’s AVUM+ stage and ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV).

The experience gained from these developments would ensure that the cost per kilogram of the payload is in line with the highly competitive global space market.

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AVUM+ is fortified with an AVUM Life Extension kit that will be Space Rider’s service module providing power, attitude control and deorbit capability for missions that would last for over months. Space Rider features an added multi-purpose cargo bay, landing gear, and an upgraded design that ensures reusability for up to 5 more flights.

For cost-effectiveness, inexpensive off the shelf components have been extensively used and other expensive elements will be reused. After each mission, the vehicle will require bare minimum revamping, which makes it commercially viable.

New features in Space Rider are avionics for maneuvering in space, deorbiting, and a ride back to Earth with a precision landing on the ground.

Space Rider launch

Giorgio Tumino, ESA’s Vega and Space Rider Development Programmes Manager, says “Space Rider provides the European Vega Space Transportation System with the unique opportunity to complement today’s capability to access space, with the capabilities to operate and return payloads from space for a variety of in-space applications, in a competitive manner with respect to an alternative solution.

“These capabilities enable Europe to capture new promising markets as is indicated by the extraordinarily enthusiastic feedback received from potential end users attending our workshops and responding to ESA’s announcements of opportunities on Space Rider”, Tumino further adds.