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ESA Completes Important Step Toward Vega Launcher 158

Posted by timothy
from the like-capsela dept.
Sven-Erik writes "ESA is reporting that 'An important step forward has just been made in the development of ESA's Vega launcher. After several months' work at the Guiana Propellant Plant at Europe's Spaceport the inert casting of the main Vega motor has been successfully carried out.' The 30-meter tall Vega launcher will be capable of placing a 1.5 ton payload into polar orbit, and it is scheduled for its first launch in 2006 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, where the Ariane 1 launch facilities are being adapted for its use. It will be a perfect complement to ESA's large Ariane 5 and the medium-classed Soyuz."
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ESA Completes Important Step Toward Vega Launcher

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  • Could someone...enlighten us to some details of the 'vega launcher' and why its special ?
    • Sorry, the article wouldnt load, I thought it was slashdotted. Explains it fairly well :)
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      Because it makes launching payloads between 300 and 2000 kg cheap, I guess. ( at least relatively speaking :-) )
    • Re:Could someone... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Polkyb (732262)
      Vega will make access to space easier, quicker and cheaper.

      It will also be sharing technology with the Ariane-5 program

    • Re:Could someone... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Googo (695955) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:54AM (#9301622)
      Text on the Vega.

      Vega

      Main Data Vega
      Height 30 m
      Diameter 3 m
      Liftoff mass 136 tonnes
      Payload mass* 1500 kg

      Although there is a growing tendency for satellites to become larger, there is still a need for a small launcher to place 300 to 2000 kg satellites, economically, into the polar and low-Earth orbits used for many scientific and Earth observation missions.

      Europes answer to these needs is Vega, named after the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere. Vega will make access to space easier, quicker and cheaper.

      Costs are being kept to a minimum by using advanced low-cost technologies and by introducing an optimised synergy with existing production facilities used for Ariane launchers.

      Vega has been designed as a single body launcher with three solid propulsion stages and an additional liquid propulsion upper module used for attitude and orbit control, and satellite release. Unlike most small launchers, Vega will be able to place multiple payloads into orbit.

      Development of the Vega launcher started in 1998. The first launch is planned for 2006 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana where the Ariane 1 launch facilities are being adapted for its use.

      * Launch in circular orbit, 90inclination, 700 km

      So basically it is europes light payload rocket.
      • Yes. Usually Rokot [astronautix.com] or Dnepr [kosmotras.ru] launches (old refurbished Russian ICBMs) are bought for small and cheap payloads, but they aren't exactly reliable...
        • by jfoust (9271)

          Yes. Usually Rokot or Dnepr launches (old refurbished Russian ICBMs) are bought for small and cheap payloads, but they aren't exactly reliable...

          Actually, if you look at their launch records both the Rockot and the Dnepr are quite reliable. (Beware the dangers of small sample statistics, however.) Care to share your analysis regarding why these specific boosters are not reliable?

      • "Costs are being kept to a minimum by using advanced low-cost technologies and by introducing an optimised synergy with existing production facilities used for Ariane launchers. "

        Well, at the very least, I can say that this *wasn't* written by an engineer. ;)
    • Sure a small inexpensive device designed to carry cargo in the tightest of corners. Unfortunately, it will be broken down all the time due to the cheap alumnin block that is used in it. It will be replaced by the competition with a pinto launcher that likes to catch on fire.
    • Re:Could someone... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:06AM (#9301657)

      The Vega launcher is intended to be much simpler and cheaper than Ariane (or similar rockets), for smaller payloads. It's a business jet to complement the jumbo that is already in service, if you will.

      The reduced cost is partly due to being a (mostly) solid-fuel rocket, which are a lot simpler in construction and require less maintenance. Extra cool: A second, future use for the Vega is to be replace the solid-fuel boosters currently used on the Ariane 5, thus significantly boosting the payload.

      • They intend to use some Vega P80 technology for a future evolution of the Ariane 5 P230 solid rocket boosters. They are both manufactured by the same people AFAIK. The technologies to be re-used include cheaper filament-wound casing and a new nozzle.
    • by Eccles (932)
      Could someone...enlighten us to some details of the 'vega launcher' and why its special ?

      If you had ever owned a Vega, [qis.net] you would understand why they want to launch any remaining ones into space...
    • Re:Could someone... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kosmonavt (784573)
      Reasons this story is interesting: Space frontier: A new rocket is developed Economic: It will have to compete with the cheap decommissioned Russian ICBMs Technological: solid fuel (aka firework material) that is harnessed to produce thrust Geekly: the test reported refers to the casting process for the solid fuel using an inert alternative (which? sugar cake - yamm!) Flamebait: another stage for US-European space antagonism Italians in space: it is mostly an Italian project within ESA
    • Could someone...enlighten us to some details of the 'vega launcher' and why its special ?


      Because it is using bat crap for propellant.

      oh damn, I'm sorry, it guiana, not guano.

  • Apearently, the Vega is the answer for economically lanching small payloads. Wouldn't it be more economical to lauch many small payloads at once using a large rocket, e.g. Ariane 5. It can't be that hard to mount some kind of multi-payload carrier on the latter also...
    • I would have said that the issue with launching many payloads on the top of one Ariane-5 would be more of an insurance problem that logistical

      I'm not sure of the numbers, but, strapping 10 payloads (worth $25M a pop) onto a firework, is more risky than strapping 2 payloads a time onto 5. There is certainly a greater chance that you'll get at least some of your toy's into orbit.

    • Re:Economics (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joggle (594025)
      The payloads would have to have similar orbits (or at least be placed in roughly the same plane). The extra fuel needed to put the various payloads in their own correct orbit quickly diminishes any cost savings by putting them on the same lower stage rocket.
    • Re:Economics (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jfoust (9271)

      Wouldn't it be more economical to lauch many small payloads at once using a large rocket, e.g. Ariane 5.

      Contrary to another response, this is as much a logistical issue as anything else: you need to find enough small payloads going to the same orbit at the same time to make this worthwhile. Coordinating this would be a significant challenge, particularly given the paucity of small payloads in general. Arianespace routinely dual-manifests larger communication satellites (that is, launch two at a time o

  • Useless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:58AM (#9301633)
    Vega is a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) launcher. There isn't a commercial market for low earth orbit satellites. Commercial satellites want GEO (geosynchronous orbit). The US military is not going to outsource to ESA (they aren't Indian). So I dont see the point of Vega. If I was doing research and needed a LEO for taking pictures or whatever, I would go with the cheaper reliable Chinese launcher.

    ESO need to concentrate on improving Ariane 5 reliability and cost.

    Or yeah, and ESO needs to build the OWL!! This earth based telescope should be able to image some planets better than space probes that visited them up and saw them up close.

    http://www.eso.org/projects/owl/
    • Re:Useless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Polkyb (732262) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:09AM (#9301668)

      I give you two quotes from TFA

      Costs are being kept to a minimum by using advanced low-cost technologies and by introducing an optimised synergy with existing production facilities used for Ariane launchers.

      and

      Unlike most small launchers, Vega will be able to place multiple payloads into orbit.

      Seems to me like two damn good reasons to me. Another, being; If you were Europe, would you REALLY want the Chinese to launch your Top Secret military satelites...?

      • multiple payloads. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by lingqi (577227) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:46AM (#9301760) Journal
        Chinese can lauch multiple satellites too, you know. However, once a rocket bites the dust, several satellites go with it instead of one.

        While indeed that no *small* chinese launchers can do this, there are really not such a big market for satellites small enough that several fit into a Vega.

        Can't argue with the military aspects, though. I don't think EU trusts the US pushing military satelites into space either these days...
        • by Polkyb (732262)

          All fair points, but, I suspect the major reason that the EU want their own "fleet" of vehicles is just plainly and simply that they don't want to have to rely on another countries space program

          I can understand the mentality, in a way... If we screw up, then WE'VE screwed up.

        • You are discounting micro and nanosats that are increasingly more used. Or why do you think there is a special platform for them that flies every time Ariane 5 does?
      • Costs are being kept to a minimum by using advanced low-cost technologies and by introducing an optimised synergy with existing production facilities used for Ariane launchers.

        It's good that the synergy is optimised. For in a world without optimised synergy, I do not wish to live.

        Oh, and for those playing buzzword bingo, I just completed a line.
    • Re:Useless (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dekeji (784080)
      I think Europe just wants a complete complement of space technologies at their disposal; they don't want to depend on either the Americans or the Chinese to provide it for them, neither for research satellites nor for military ones.
      • In some cases that's probably right for logical reasons, but I think they also have planned for and carried out several fairly innovative and unique missions to increase our knowledge beyond Earth.
    • Re:Useless (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ebassi (591699)

      Vega is a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) launcher. There isn't a commercial market for low earth orbit satellites.

      Yes, there is a market. Universities and small companies, for instance.

      I would go with the cheaper reliable Chinese launcher

      What part of "competition" you did not understand?

    • Re:Useless (Score:2, Informative)

      by HenrikOxUK (776979)
      ESO need to concentrate on improving Ariane 5 reliability and cost.

      The European Southern Observatory (ESO), makes telecopes (like VLT and OWL), not rockets. You've mixed up ESO and ESA (European Space Agency).
    • Yes, you're half right, comms sats will be mostly going to Geo synchronous orbit, but theres a lot of use for sun synchronous orbits, which the vega looks like its capable of.
    • Vega is a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) launcher. There isn't a commercial market for low earth orbit satellites. Commercial satellites want GEO (geosynchronous orbit).

      No? I guess these satellites [spotimage.fr], among many others, aren't 'commercial'? Communications birds want geosynch so they can cover the largest possible swath of ground and provide a stable point for the ground antenna to point to. Most everybody else wants to be down lower, especially imaging birds.

      ESO need to concentrate on improving Ariane 5 reliabil

  • Is it any good? (Score:4, Informative)

    by dj245 (732906) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:01AM (#9301642) Homepage
    I read the articles, (yep, must be new here), but they don't indicate whether its a very complicated design or a very simple one. Generally, the simplest design that can do the job is the best, but the shuttle is not a good example of this. Anyone have any thoughts? Is it more complex than the Ariane? Does it have more fiddly bits?

    The Soyuz design is a good one because it is proven, and very very simple. No fiddly bits. You could probably launch in a hurricane if you absolutely had to [floridatoday.com]: little short of a thunderstorm over the pad will stop the launch. This is no space shuttle, and weather-related scrubs are almost unheard of here.

    On the other hand, the Arianes have fiddly bits [space.com] and can't launch in bad weather. [rednova.com] So where does this thing fall, somewhere in between? Even more fiddly than Ariane? Less complex than Soyuz?

    • Re:Is it any good? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mj_1903 (570130) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:50AM (#9301914)
      As all its stages are solid fuel (except the final stage), Vega doesn't need the hazards of complex machinery, fuelling, insulation and other things that can possibly make it fail or delay a launch.

      What I find interesting is that it is such a small vehicle. I imagine its going to push some g's on launch because its thrust to weight ratio is quite high. I haven't seen any numbers to support this theory though.
    • Re:Is it any good? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Vadim Makarov (529622)
      The Soyuz design is a good one because it is proven, and very very simple. No fiddly bits. You could probably launch in a hurricane if you absolutely had to.

      This is because Soyuz booster is based on an early days military design, or should we say multiple-use design. I believe at one time a couple of these boosters were on standby with nuclear warheards attached (until USSR installed better ICBMs). You don't want weather over the launch pad to preclude a nuclear strike, don't you? No wonder the boosters w

      • Yes, the way of launching it is pretty nifty. The rocket is brought assembled horizontally, then the launch platform puts it in upright position and loads the fuel. This is all done in a reasonable time, since this was supposed to be an ICBM.
  • Why not fuel free? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Prof.Phreak (584152) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:05AM (#9301653) Homepage
    Is anyone researching fuel free launches?

    I mean things like shooting the payload from a cannon or something... ...or possibly using a HUGE rubber band to send a capsule flying into space.

    As long as we need 100*X pounds of fuel to launch X pounds into space, space travel will remain uneconomical for most purposes.
    • We had that several days ago with helium ballons.

      But there are several designs for using large cannons and electrorail runs for launching somethings.
    • by mrright (301778) <rudi@@@lambda-computing...com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:34AM (#9301728) Homepage
      The most promising propellantless launch technology is rotating tethers.

      Check out this [tethers.com] for plenty of information about what is possible. here [tethers.com] is a paper about a tether for LEO to GTO boost that could be built today.

      All the other things like electric catapults are much too large to be practical if you want reasonable g-forces.

      --
    • by lingqi (577227) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:51AM (#9301770) Journal
      i know you are kidding, but there are fuel free research. some almost exact replicas of Verne's canon. Of course, since you have to travel through dense atmosphere for a _long_time_, 7.9km/s is not nearly enough.

      And the payload would go through something like 10,000G through the acceleration phase. I think they are suggesting that electronics can generally handle this, which is surprising to me.

      AND the payload would burn through about five inches of ablative.

      I think the current technical problem they are facing is to get the huge acceleration out of the canon - because chemical charges can not ever get you the muzzle velocity, probably ever. So now you are in the realm of railguns. don't expect to see payloads shot up this way for a few years. =)

      but, like i said, there are ideas floating around about it.
      • I had a neighbor that was involved in a guided artillery shell project. He said that some of the more interesting, non-code related issues were, they had to be very careful with the orientation of their surface mount electronics because they had a bad habbit of ripping off or moving in surprising ways.
    • You're not as stupid as you sound (or our best testing indicates). Any way we can get the launching platform to do part of the boost (especially if it doesn't destroy itself) would be of big help.
      The problem is acceleration. If we shoot the payload like a bullet, everything/body goes splat. I remember seeing one design once that kinda looked like a traintrack up a mountain. The idea was to give it a decent speed upon launch after accelerating over a good deal of track (via maglev I'd imagine). The pr
    • I've been working on something like this with friends. Posted on it before here [slashdot.org].
      We we're actually planning to launch people across the British Channel, because we thought it would be a hell of a ride. Research was limited to some rough calculations on the back of a beer coaster. Turns out that using a trebuchet isn't economically feasible for these kinds of things.
    • by grozzie2 (698656) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:11AM (#9301962)
      This was being done in the early 60's by a Canadian research team. Google for Harp Gun, and read here [nasa.gov] . Basically they started with 7 inch guns, and were shooting probes up to do high altitude research. In phase 2 of the project they were using a 16 inch gun, and projectiles that included a rocket motor. The 16 inch gun was capable of lifting a 200lb projectile to an altitude of 90 miles.

      The projectiles they were firing (the martlett) had a bunch of electronics in them, and they had designed them with a small rocket motor to maneuver at that altitude, not sure if they actually flew any with the motor.

      The entire story is quite interesting, after the Harp project ended, Gerald Bull (the engineer behind it) went on to continue the research covertly funded by the cia initially. When he had a major falling out with the cia, he worked with other foriegn governments to continue the upscaling of the concept. He was assasinated when he built one that was capable of launching a 1000kg projectile over a distance of a thousand miles, before they had a chance to fire it. Interestingly, that one was capable of orbiting a much smaller projectile.

    • by imsabbel (611519) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:21AM (#9301982)
      The BIG problem is that with such a lauch the vehicle will be fastest where there is the most air resistance. You cant just easily get something to mach 20 on ground level without it burning up.

      One suggestion is building a HUGE railgun into a mountain range of decent height. That way you get your highest speed in a height of 4-5km, where air density is already quite a bit lower than on ground, and you can spread your acceleration over a minute or so.
    • by DerekLyons (302214)

      Is anyone researching fuel free launches?

      Why should they? Fuel is *cheap*. (Filling the Shuttle's various fuel tanks costs something under 10 million dollars.) Rocket scientists wish they could get launch costs down to where the fuel costs dominate (as it does for air travel), but that's somewhere down around a 10-15 fold reduction in costs from current levels, I.E. quite distant.

      I mean things like shooting the payload from a cannon or something... ...or possibly using a HUGE rubber band to send a cap

    • Is anyone researching fuel free launches?

      I mean things like shooting the payload from a cannon or something..


      The main problem is that any reasonable gun size requires thousands of Gs acceleration. That eliminates most cargo options (so you still have to use another launcher type for much of your cargo).

      You're also limited by the atmosphere. While you *could* try to build a 1000-km long human-rated mass driver, you'd be plowing through the atmosphere at Mach Silly for most of the acceleration distance, a
      • Good post.

        I'll just add that any low-G accelerator implies that you'll be launching at a low elevation, unless you plan to dig a shaft hundreds of km into the earth. This increases the distance you have to travel through the atmosphere, and therefore the amount of wasted energy.
  • A step backward (Score:4, Informative)

    by mrright (301778) <rudi@@@lambda-computing...com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:16AM (#9301690) Homepage
    Vega is a solid-fueled launcher based on the Ariane V boosters. Solid-fueled launchers are great for the military since they can launch at a moments notice, but other than that they are a big PITA.

    Since they arrive at the launch complex fully fueled, they are a major safety risk. There have been numerous accidents with solid-fueled boosters. The last major accident was in brazil, and it killed several people and completely destroyed the launch complex.

    The solid fueled boosters of the shuttle make assembly much more difficult, and if a shuttle SRB were to accidentally go off while in the assembly building, it would probably kill hundreds of people. That is why NASA tries to limit the number of people working on the shuttle while the SRB are attached, which of course increases the cost and the processing time.

    For a really modern and cheap small launcher, take a look at the falcon [spacex.com].

    --
    • Re:A step backward (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mrright (301778) <rudi@@@lambda-computing...com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:45AM (#9301759) Homepage
      To back up my assertion that the vega is not competitive: here are a few launch prices:
      The vega [esrin.esa.it] is supposed to cost 20 million USD for a payload of 1500kg to LEO. The Falcon I will cost 6 million USD for a payload of 700kg to a similar orbit, and the Falcon V will cost 12 million USD and have a payload of 4200kg to LEO.

      So commercially vega will be a complete desaster. The only payloads that will go to vega will be government payloads that can not go to falcon for reasons of national prestige.

      On the other hand, vega is a decent ICBM with MIRV capability.
      • you forgot to add that it is pure wapourware
      • I don't know about complete failure. The ESA has a very good track record and I am sure big companies would rather pay for reliability (assuming that it is). You also have the fact that the ESA can now offer a complete solution to all customers, whether it be light Vega payloads or heavy Ariane 5 launches, they will cover it all.

        On the other hand, the market is extremely small for light payloads to LEO, so both maybe a commercial disaster.
        • Small solid launch vehicles have been tried before. For example the athena and taurus [astronautix.com] rockets by lockheed. Even though they used old ICBM technology they are commercial failures.

          Another problem with solid rockets is that they have a rather extreme launch environment (lots of vibration), so you have to beef up your payload to handle the vibrations.

          Solid rockets for civilian applications are just a bad idea.

          --
      • Re:A step backward (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ttsalo (126195)
        here are a few launch prices: ... Falcon I ... Falcon V ...

        Those Falcon launchers sound impressive, but are completely unproven and it remains to be seen how they perform in reality and what the real cost is. Saying that something is "a step backward" from stuff that doesn't exist doesn't make much sense.

        On the other hand, vega is a decent ICBM with MIRV capability.

        Conspiracy theory time! I wonder what the throw weight is, say, halfway around the globe?

        --

        • Re:A step backward (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mrright (301778)
          Those Falcon launchers sound impressive, but are completely unproven and it remains to be seen how they perform in reality and what the real cost is. Saying that something is "a step backward" from stuff that doesn't exist doesn't make much sense.
          The falcon launchers are just as unproven as the vega launcher. Neither of them has flown, but the engines of both falcon and vega have been tested on test stands.

          And I am totally convinced that using solids for civilian launchers is a major step backward. Imagin
          • The large solids are filled at a facility near the launch site. They don't come fueled all the way from Europe.

            But yes, I agree. Solids are not very good for anything but military launches where rapid response time is paramount. Hybrids like Rutan's SpaceShipOne is using are better, but the technology is not as well developed. One last note: these solids are being made by the same people who do the P230 solids of Ariane 5. P230 has never failed on an Ariane launch.

          • Re:A step backward (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cheesybagel (670288)
            Conspiracy theory time! I wonder what the throw weight is, say, halfway around the globe?
            About three to four tons. But that was just a joke. It could be used as an ICBM though.

            In case you didn't know about it, some people who work on P230 and P80 also help develop the French M51 SLBMs and manufacture explosives for car airbags. So yeah, solid rocket technology can be used for a log of things. Fear the intercontinental airbags!

    • The solid fueled boosters of the shuttle make assembly much more difficult, and if a shuttle SRB were to accidentally go off while in the assembly building, it would probably kill hundreds of people. Or even worse, if one of the SRBs would malfunction during launch. The beast would be doing cartwheels all over KSC
      • Unfortunately, that happened in 1986 and it was called Challenger Disaster. SRB malfunctioned (O-ring failure), turned, hit the hydrogen tank and it went pooof.
  • Polar orbit? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eric Smith (4379) * <eric@bro u h a h a . c om> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:34AM (#9301730) Homepage Journal
    Is a polar orbit useful for anything other than military payloads? If they can get a 1.5 tonne payload into a polar orbit, how massive a payload can they get into a more non-polar LEO?

    The Space Shuttle's delta wing design was based on a requirement from the military that it be capable of polar orbit. But they've never used it for that. If they'd just told the military to get lost, they could have used a better design. Sigh.

    • Re:Polar orbit? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sven-Erik (177541) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:25AM (#9301992)

      Scientific satellites very often use polar orbits since it allows them to cover the whole of the earth surface.

      And if the US military hadn't been involved with NASA and space development throughout its history, I doubt there would be much, if any, NASA.

      • And if the US military hadn't been involved with NASA and space development throughout its history, I doubt there would be much, if any, NASA.
        Seems rather unlikely. In the early days, the military fought NASA tooth-and-nail because they didn't want a civilian presence in space.
        • True, but how "big" would NASA have been if all the knowledge and the technology developed by and/or for the military and its presence in space had to been developed entirely for the civilian sector? It seems it is easier to get heavy federal funding for military scientific projects than for purely civilian scientific projects.

    • Re:Polar orbit? (Score:4, Informative)

      by charboy1 (468037) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:36AM (#9302028)
      Is a polar orbit useful for anything other than military payloads?

      The ESA payload GOCE [esa.int] - Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer - for example would preferably fly in a polar orbit to gather gravity field data for the entire planet including the poles. Instead near-ground (i.e. airplane) measurements will need to fill in the data gaps at the poles. GOCE will fly in a dawn-dusk sun-synchronous [ku.edu.np] orbit, launched by Rockot [eurockot.com].

      - charboy
    • Re:Polar orbit? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Migraineman (632203) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:41AM (#9302288)
      Yep, polar orbits are useful when you need global coverage. Think about one of those basketball-things and imagine in spinning like the Earth. Now use your finger as the satellite. Equatorial orbits will only cover a thin horizontal stripe of area (remember that LEO spacecraft don't have a huge footprint because they're not too high above hte planet.)

      If you now move the satellite in a polar orbit, you'll see that the footprint will cover the entire basketball-earth in a series of vertical stripes.

      Why is this useful? Consider remote data collection anywhere on the planet. If you're observing weather in Peru, or ice flows in the North Atlantic shipping channels, and want to convey that information to your university research center in the Bahamas, then you need global coverage for the transponders (especially for the ice flows - you can't determine where they're going to go.) Polar orbit spacecraft like NOAA7 and NOAA9 performed store-and-forward functions for jobs like these. I built sonar-buoy hardware for tracking conditions in the North Atlantic shipping lanes waaaay back. Here's a decent summary of some of the NOAA satellites that used polar LEO orbits. [fsu.edu]
    • I'm wondering why they are launching things into polar orbit from a nearly equatorial launch site. Seems to me they'd have an extra 460 m/s velocity eastward velocity that they'd need to dispose of (though I'm not recommending launching from the South Pole).
    • There is a project in which a bunch of small cameras are put in polar orbit for being able to rapidly survey a region supposedly after a major natural disaster. Several nations and companies are in this project, they can do what they want with them except just after a natural disaster which they would be temprarily cooperatively commandeered for the situation at hand.

      The idea was that a ring of these satellites would chase after each other in a single orbit, while the earth spins under it. The reason thi
  • by marsu_k (701360) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:46AM (#9301761)
    It seems every time a story gets submitted here about ESA and new technologies they're trying to develop, most of the comments are negative. Let's take a look at the discussion so far: "Useless" by AC (+4, insightful), "Is it any good?" (+3, interesting), "Why not fuel free?" (+3, interesting), "A step backward" (+3, informative)... see a pattern here?

    First of all, I really have a hard time believing that your random slashdotter would have sufficient knowledge to make any intelligent observations about the projects involved (posting as AC doesn't certainly help); furthermore, even if they would have (I've seen people claim working for NASA here), ESA press relases are (naturally) very thin on technical details. After all, you wouldn't want the whole world to know all of your research, right?

    OK, so there have been failed ESA projects (NASA/Russians have also failed more than once if I'm not mistaken), Beagle 2 being the latest (however it is often forgotten here that Mars Express was the real purpose of the mission). So yeah, they might be wasting my tax Euros. I wish they'd waste more! IMHO more research put into space programs ultimately helps everybody, it certainly isn't "useless".

    • It seems every time a story gets submitted here about ESA and new technologies they're trying to develop, most of the comments are negative.

      Sigh. I also get the impression that ESA-related news on ./ often enough are not actually worth posting. Like this one, IMHO. That makes it a cakewalk for numerous dolts to get cheap ego boosts by picking it apart.

      VEGA is not news because, obviously, it is not really new. Nobody even claims so. Its a reconfiguration of existing technology.

    • by lxt (724570) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:14AM (#9301829) Journal
      "OK, so there have been failed ESA projects (NASA/Russians have also failed more than once if I'm not mistaken), Beagle 2 being the latest (however it is often forgotten here that Mars Express was the real purpose of the mission). So yeah, they might be wasting my tax Euros. I wish they'd waste more!"

      I agree with you completely - however, just to point out that I believe Beagle 2 was not funded by the ESA...of course, clearly some money from the ESA went towards Beagle 2 due to the cost of adpating Mars Express and payload launch costs, but I think the probe itself wasn't funded by ESA.

      Which leaves even more money to spend on other exciting ESA projects - people may be complaining about how VEGA is "useless", but would they rather the ESA not invest money in space technology at all?
      • ESA paid for about 50% of Beagle - but most of the satellite and its problems were indepepdent from ESA (that is, ESA didn't manage the project). The summary of its failure was approximately - too much on too small amount of money too fast.

        As a result we now have a good idea on how cheaply we can make a planetary probe with present technology.
    • Exactly. The reason why ESA is developing its own line of launchers is because they want to ensure independent European access to space - both for heavy loads (Ariane 5) and lighter loads (Vega). Perhaps ESA will also incorporate the EADS Phoenix shuttle in its launcher family, which would give us independent manned access to space as well. I believe that this is where we might be going, and I would gladly see more money go to European space research. The Aurora programme is especially intriguing.
    • by Timesprout (579035) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:27AM (#9301859)
      You forget many readers are from the US and they are becoming increasingly concerned that their technological lead in space is being eroded. I think the US really would prefer to have all other countries depend on it for satellite and space access.
    • You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that when falcon V costs 12 million USD and has a payload of 4200kg while vega costs 20 million USD and has a payload of 1500kg, the vega project does not make any sense.

      And everybody on sci.space.tech or sci.space.policy will agree that using solid propellant for a civilian launcher is just asking for trouble.

      21 rocket scientists [spacetoday.net] from brazil would definitely agree with this. Unfortunately they can't because they are all dead!

      --
      • 21 rocket scientists from brazil would definitely agree with this. Unfortunately they can't because they are all dead!

        Why do you say that? They were working on the project. Presumably, they had at least some faith in it. Every time someone dies in an automobile accident should we conclude that the victims believe cars are too dangerous to drive? It really steams me when someone on Slashdot or elsewhere presumes to speak for the opinions of the deceased.

        Someone who actually reads the linked article w

        • Gee, it's a good thing that electrical or other engineering flaws can't ignite liquid fuel during storage, transport, or fuelling. I'm also pleased to discover that problems of sloppy management can be alleviated through the use of liquid fuels....

          There is still a huge difference. A liquid fueled vehicle is fueled on the pad, when the next human being is in a bunker about 500m away. The fuel and oxidizer themselves (usually kerosene and liquid oxygen) are not that dangerous as long as they don't mix.

          With
    • Well, in terms of commercial viability, there were reports back in 2000 such as this one [space.com] which stated that France declined to participate in Vega because of concerns about its commercial viability (although they did fund the P80 advanced solid propulsion stage).
      • This project is mostly lead by the Italians. I think the French do not see much use for such a small launcher, but the fact is ESA is using old Russian ICBMs for several small missions today (university projects, etc) precisely because there is no small launcher.

        Oh and dumping Ariane 4, losing their midsized launcher, was a stupid, stupid idea... Now they are replacing it with Soyuz. Oh well, at least Soyuz has the benefit of being man-rated. So they can launch some Soyuz and Progress ships from Kourou to

    • You're mistaking rational analysis for jingoism. you write:

      First of all, I really have a hard time believing that your random slashdotter would have sufficient knowledge to make any intelligent observations about the projects involved

      The reality is lots of slashdotters are in this business. This isn't about failure rates - this market is way oversaturated - nobody is making money off launches with this payload size. Launcher companies the world over grossly overestimated the size of this market (wha

  • when Vegans everywhere can be lunched into space.

    Sorry, I meant 'launched.'
  • Make a modern space-plane like the shuttle, and strap it to the back of a modified large commercial jet-aircraft like a 747, as seen here [nasa.gov]. Then use the concept used by Scaled Composits [scaled.com] for SpaceShipOne, to bring the space plane up to a high altitude and release it there. It then continues into orbit using rocket power.

    The trick is that because the shuttle is attached to the TOP of the 747, and not underneath, you have to do a roll and fly upside down for a bit when releasing the shuttle. But that's no p
    • Make a modern space-plane like the shuttle, and strap it to the back of a modified large commercial jet-aircraft like a 747, as seen here. Then use the concept used by Scaled Composits for SpaceShipOne, to bring the space plane up to a high altitude and release it there. It then continues into orbit using rocket power.

      The problem is... You don't actually save any money that way. You shave maybe 1% of the fuel requirements, but you need vastly more structure to handle the loads, thus raising your total f

    • It is one thing for a 747 to carry an empty shuttle, and quite another for it to carry one with enough rocket fuel to get from FL100 to orbit, plus its payload and crew.

      The takeoff mass of the shuttle is about 2,000 metric tonnes, and the landing mass is only 100 tonnes. (Source: wikipedia [wikipedia.org]). That's a big difference! 1900 tonnes, or 95% of the mass is burnt or otherwise used in getting up there. This is pretty typical of orbital systems: the higher you want to go, the more of your mass you need to burn

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