Space Rider aims to provide Europe with an affordable, independent, reusable end-to-end integrated space transportation system for routine access and return from low orbit. It will be used to transport payloads for an array of applications, orbit altitudes and inclinations.
Launched atop Vega-C, Space Rider follows ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) which on 11 February 2015 performed a flawless suborbital flight with atmospheric reentry and sea landing.
Europe has solid knowhow in getting to space and operating in space – but not returning from space. IXV was designed to help fill that gap in knowledge by demonstrating critical technologies in hypersonic flight conditions, fully representative of an atmospheric reentry from low orbit.
Several additional technology developments and flight demonstrations have since taken place in Europe, adding valuable information.
Space Rider will have the potential to allow:
- experiments in microgravity;
- in-orbit validation of technologies required for several application missions;
- educational missions;
- enhancement of European industry competitiveness in paving the way to a commercial service.
The operational missions for Space Rider include a wide spectrum of orbital altitudes and inclinations in low orbit, compatible with the performance of the Vega-C launch system and its future evolutions.
The spacecraft will be launched from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, stay in orbit as required by its payloads, and then perform a ground landing. Afterwards, it will be refurbished and equipped with new payloads for the next flight.
The operational mission is based on the following elements:
- A small reusable orbital system designed to minimise refurbishment and turn-around life-cycle cost. It builds on the system and technological knowhow acquired through IXV and the European launchers technology and flight experience, implementing design innovations such as a multipurpose cargo bay, and maximising the use of off-the-shelf components.
- A small launch system to minimise launch service cost. The reference launch system is the Vega-C. The AVUM+ fourth stage of Vega-C constitutes the service module of the reusable orbital system, providing manoeuvrability for the payloads as well as the reentry braking.
A ground segment to support the in-orbit operations as well as the reentry and landing, and the early processing of the payloads after landing.
Space Rider way forward
The System Requirements Review is planned for 2017. The Preliminary Design Review, to be completed in 2018, will lead to the Detailed Design phase, with the Critical Design Review in 2019.
Current activities include:
- Final trade-off and down-selection of the payloads involving the end-users.
- Finalisation of mission and system design, benefiting from the IXV development and commonalities with Vega-C.