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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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  • Re:Could someone... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Polkyb (732262) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:42AM (#9301601)
    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 @04:54AM (#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.
  • Is it any good? (Score:4, Informative)

    by dj245 (732906) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:01AM (#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:Could someone... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:06AM (#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.

  • A step backward (Score:4, Informative)

    by mrright (301778) <rudi@@@lambda-computing...com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:16AM (#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].

    --
  • by mrright (301778) <rudi@@@lambda-computing...com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:34AM (#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.

    --
  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ttsalo (126195) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:51AM (#9301769)
    Ever since NASAs dead hand crushed the Saturn as a launch vehicle, there hasn't been anything really capable of putting my large granite house into geosychronous orbit.

    Not true. Russian Energia can lift considerably more than Saturn. (175 tons to LEO in the maximum configuration, although only lighter configurations have actually flown). There just hasn't been much demand for this sort of capability, so the last Energia sits mothballed in a hangar...

    --

  • by sander (7831) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:56AM (#9301933)
    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.
  • by grozzie2 (698656) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:11AM (#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 @07:21AM (#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 AndroidCat (229562) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:24AM (#9301991) Homepage
    A search of "Babylon gun" will get you links. [astronautix.com] It was never finished--a certain neighbour of Iraq was not happy about the likely practical uses.
  • Re:Useless (Score:2, Informative)

    by HenrikOxUK (776979) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:35AM (#9302025) Homepage
    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).
  • Re:Polar orbit? (Score:4, Informative)

    by charboy1 (468037) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:36AM (#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:A step backward (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:45AM (#9302057)
    Ah yes, the Falcon I, the proven solution for cheap launches. Oh wait, there has *never* been a launch of the Falcon I.

    They were supposed to launch early 2004, to bring TacSat I in orbit, then it became march, and for months now it has been awfully quiet at SpaceX.

    So yeah, silly Europeans, trying to compete with vaporware.
  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

    by ttsalo (126195) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @08:06AM (#9302130)
    I don't agree. It was mothballed as recently as in 1992 and the company that made it (S.P.Korolev RSC Energia) is still in business making rockets. I don't claim that they could take the Energia out, fuel and launch it, but the availability of the manufacturing equipment, launch facilities and especially the people who could make it happen are on a completely different level when compared to Saturn V.

    If you had enough money, you could buy an Energia launch from RSC Energia - but not a Saturn launch from NASA. (Well, maybe you could with really enough money...)

    --

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

    by Migraineman (632203) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @08:41AM (#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]
  • by HokieJP (741860) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @11:00AM (#9303313)
    Do you have a source for that 60% number? I did a search, and the most current numbers I found were for 2002, when ESA had 41% of commercial space launches (down from 50% in 2001).
  • Re:Arianne-5? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:55PM (#9304755)
    True, one Ariane 5 exploded. They have since fixed the problem and as far as a know already had a successful launch of Ariane 5.
  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:39PM (#9305306) Homepage
    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 capsule flying into space.
    A lot of folks have looked at various fuel-free options, but every one of them so far falls into one of three categories;
    • Don't work when you run the real numbers. (Example: Electromagnetic cannon.)
    • Works, but doesn't actually save any money. (Example: Gun launches.)
    • Works, but requires such an enourmous upfront cost that there does not seem enough launches to be available to amortize the capital costs. (Example: Beamed power.)

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