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European industry gears up for Vega-C debut in 2019

(21 June 2018 - ESA) With just one year before Vega-C lifts off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, preparations for Europe’s next launcher are gaining momentum.

Vega-C will increase performance from Vega’s current 1.5 t to about 2.2 t hauled to its reference 700 km polar orbit, with no increase in launch costs.

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Artist's view of Vega-C (courtesy: ESA-Jacky Huart)

Thrust in the first phase of flight comes from new solid-fuel first and second stage motors, P120C and Zefiro-40 respectively.

P120C’s upcoming first hot static-firing test at Europe’s Spaceport will prove the design, new materials, techniques, tools and components.

Developed by Europropulsion under contract to Avio and ArianeGroup, P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter – the largest solid-propellant motor ever built in one segment. Two or four will also be used for Ariane 6.

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The P120C full-scale model solid rocket motor for Ariane 6 and Vega-C, filled with 142 tonnes of inert propellant, is tilted from its vertical orientation to horizontal position for further integration with other structures. (courtesy: ESA/CNES/Arianespace)

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The solid-fuel based Zefiro-40 will be the second stage motor of Europe's new-generation Vega-C launch vehicle. The Zefiro-40 development motor, developed and manufactured by Avio in their Colleferro factory, was installed on the horizontal test bench and static fired on 8 March 2018, in Sardinia. The resulting test data will guide the qualification and flight model design. (courtesy: ESA)

Zefiro-40, developed and manufactured by Avio in their Colleferro factory, was static fired on 8 March in Sardinia. The resulting test data will guide the qualification and flight models design.

The AVUM+ upper stage, derived from the current Vega AVUM, has been improved. The liquid propellant capacity has been increased by about 150 kg and the structure has been optimised by using carbon composite sandwich panels. Developed by AVIO, it will improve the flexibility of the launcher to deploy one or more payloads thanks to its 2.45 kN main engine and new avionic equipment.

Vega-C’s 3.3 m diameter fairing can accommodate larger payloads. An ‘out-of-autoclave’ manufacturing technique developed by Ruag Space in Switzerland reduces cost, saves time and enables production of very large composite panels.

Electromechanical thrust vector control systems that guide and control the vehicle stages at each phase of flight are in development, harnessing leading-edge manufacturing processes to enhance performance.

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Mobile gantry for Vega-C (courtesy: ESA)

The Vega launch pad and mobile gantry are being modified to accommodate Vega-C requiring a more powerful crane, new pallets, and modified fluid services.

The crane that will hoist Vega-C’s 40-tonne second stage has been installed in the mobile gantry, and is currently undergoing mechanical and lift qualification tests.

The next milestone in this ambitious schedule is the upcoming Vega launch using equipment that is ready for Vega-C leading into a period when launch facilities accommodate both vehicles.