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Spaceplanes - Europe prepares for a reusable future: Part 3

Europe in Space
Issue 13. Subscribers: 316.
In case you missed it, last week I got the chance to chat with the new COO of UK-based launch startup Skyrora Lee Rosen for the podcast. We chatted about this career, what drew him across the pond, and how rocketry shares many similarities with brewing beer. 
Now, on to the newsletter. This may be the longest “In the news” section I have put together to date. A lot happened last week. So, enjoy the issue, and if you have any suggestions or tips, you are more than welcome to reply to this mail with your thoughts!

Europe prepares for a reusable future: Spaceplanes
Over the last two weeks, I have looked at Europe’s efforts toward developing reusable launch capabilities. The first two issues in this series focused on institutional launch vehicles and commercial launch vehicles. This week, I looked at spaceplane projects that are currently being developed in Europe.
Space Rider - European Space Agency
The European Space Agency’s Space Rider spaceplane is a small uncrewed robotic laboratory the size of two minivans. The vehicle has a 620 kg payload capacity and is capable of remaining in orbit for two months at a time before returning to Earth and touching down under a parafoil. The project’s participating states are France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Norway.
Space Rider is intended to enable Europe to have independent access to low Earth research outside the International Space Station. It will also serve as a significantly more affordable option compared to the iconic space station. The vehicle is made up of a 3.5-metre service module and a 4.6-metre re-entry module.
Space Rider is expected to be launched on its maiden mission aboard an Avio-built Vega C rocket in late 2023. According to Space Rider segment manager at ESA Dante Galli, the team is currently conducting a critical design review of the vehicle, which should be concluded by the end of this month.
Earlier this year, Galli told European Spaceflight that there are discussions about future upgrades to Space Rider that may be proposed at the ESA ministerial level council meeting later this year.
Mk-III Aurora - Dawn Aerospace
The 18-metre Mk-III Aurora spaceplane is being developed by Dawn Aerospace in the Netherlands. The vehicle is designed to be capable of several flights to space per day, delivering 250 kg payloads each flight. The vehicle would be able to take off from any airport in the world alongside normal air traffic returning to Earth following the release of its payload to be refueled and prepared to be launched again.
The company has already begun testing some of its core technology aboard its sub-scale suborbital Aurora vehicle. The lessons learned from this vehicle will be applied to the larger Mk-II Aurora vehicle. This 4.8-metre spaceplane will be capable of speeds above Mach 3 and altitudes above 110 km. This vehicle will be the precursor to the larger Mk-III Aurora spaceplane.
According to public records, Dawn Aerospace has raised €3.3 million in seed and has secured several grants, including a €500k Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Netherlands Space Office. Additionally, in May, the company announced that it would begin raising a more than €28.4 million Series A funding round. There are sources that state the company has already completed its Series A funding round, but the company does not appear to have revealed that publicly. 
Aurora - POLARIS Raumflugzeuge
Yes, another Aurora. Someone is going to have to figure that out. This Aurora spaceplane is being developed by German aerospace startup POLARIS Raumflugzeuge. It was originally a German Aerospace Center (DLR) design that was worked on between 2015 and 2018. The technical data and documentation for the vehicle were made available to the company under a licensing agreement.
Aurora can be launched in a suborbital or an orbital configuration. The suborbital configuration features the standard single-stage spaceplane. The orbital configuration will include a small expendable upper stage that will give it the kick it needs to reach orbit. This version of the vehicle is designed to be capable of delivering 100 kg payloads to orbit. 
POLARIS has been awarded several grants and has closed a “significant pre-series A investment” round. The funding was led by the then newly created investment company Polaris Space Ventures (PSV). PSV was founded early this year under the leadership of Matthias Spott, together with his business partners Steffen Herfurth and Diederik Kelder. Despite the name, the two companies don’t appear to be affiliated with one another. In a press release announcing the pre-series A funding, POLARIS revealed that it planned to close its Series A funding round by the end of this month.
“Skylon” - Reaction Engines
Skylon isn’t really a single vehicle that is under development. It’s a series of vehicle concepts that all revolve around the Reaction Engine’s innovative Sabre rocket engine. In fact, the company appears to have mostly distanced itself from the Skylon name, instead preferring to refer to its concepts as “SABRE-powered launch systems.”
The Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) is a novel rocket design that extracts the oxygen it needs for low atmosphere flight from the air itself. Once at higher altitudes, the engine switches to onboard liquid oxygen supplies. This allows for a lighter and more efficient launch vehicle.
According to reaction engines, a horizontal-take-off-and-landing single-stage-to-orbit vehicle powered by Sabre engines would be capable of delivering more than 15-tonne payloads to low Earth orbit at approximately “1/50th of the cost of traditional expendable launch vehicles.”
To date, Reaction Engines has raised approximately €150 million in funding and amassed some impressive partners, including Rolls-Royce, Boeing, ESA, DARPA, and BAE Systems.
SpaceX launch German spy satellite - A 4,000 kg German spy satellite was successfully launched aboard a Falcon 9 on 18 June. The mission was part of an impressive run of three launches in three days by SpaceX, beginning with a Starlink mission on 17 June and ending with the launch of a Globalsat communications satellite on 19 June. The German SARah 1 satellite was built by Airbus and is intended as an upgrade of the country’s SAR-Lupe surveillance satellites.
RFA One is ready for launch… kind of - Rocket Factory Augsburg has released an official RFA One mod for the Kerbal Space Program game. The mod includes all the parts to build and launch an RFA One launch vehicle. It all includes a unique “debris removal mission” scenario for players to attempt. 
OHB Moon mission gets a ride along - OHB and The Exploration Company, a European startup developing orbital research vehicles, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the launch of a demonstration mission. The agreement will see The Exploration Company’s Ground, Navigation and Control (GNC) system tested under real-world conditions aboard the OHB Lunar Surface Access Service (LSAS) mission which is expected to land on the Moon in 2025. The Exploration Company GNC system will not be integrated with the LSAS guidance system but will instead send “virtual commands” that will be used to evaluate its performance.
The announcement we knew was coming - ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher revealed that the agency was no longer targeting 2022 for the maiden launch of Ariane 6. The statement was made during a BBC HARDtalk interview on 13 June. Aschbacher stated that Ariane 6 would fly “sometime next year.” A revised launch timeline is expected to be revealed in the coming weeks. 
The suborbital race begins - This German launch startup HyImpulse Technologies began a series of tests on its suborbital SR75 launch vehicle ahead of a wet dress rehearsal. The vehicle is intended to be a technology demonstrator that will test many of the systems that will be utilised aboard the company’s SL1 orbital vehicle. As HyImpulse is nearing the launchpad with their SR75, Spain’s PLD Space is progressing through a series of hot-fire tests ahead of the company’s maiden Miura 1 launch.  
UK takes the lead on exoplanet telescope - The UK Space Agency announced that it had committed £30 million to the ESA’s Ariel exoplanet telescope. According to the UK Space Agency, the investment will secure the country’s scientific leadership of the mission. Ariel is expected to be launched in late 2029 and will survey approximately 1,000 exoplanets over an initial four-year mission.
Pointsman for space gets funding boost - German space situational awareness as a service company OKAPI:Orbits has raised €5.5 million to continue the development of its space traffic management software. The seed funding round was led by San Francisco-based MunichRe Ventures and included Dolby Family Ventures, Herius Capital, APEX Ventures, and others.
If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge space debris - A consortium led by OHB Sweden has signed a contract with ESA to develop autonomous orbital control management of large satellite constellations. The company is partnering with OHB System, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and Luleå University of Technology to develop the technology.
Suborbital rocket company gets a boost - UK-based microgravity research startup Gravitilab has received £100k in funding from the British Design Fund. The funding will assist the company with the continued development of a fleet of suborbital launch vehicles that will allow the company to offer unique and affordable microgravity research opportunities to customers.
ThrustMe, I know what I am doing - French orbital propulsion startup, ThrustMe has won an ESA General Support Technology Programme contract to demonstrate the largest orbital change ever done by a 20kg class satellite. The GOMX-5 demonstration satellite is expected to be launched later this year and will include several advanced payloads in addition to ThrustMe’s innovative electric propulsion solution.
One more step towards the launchpad for Vega C - The LARES 2 primary payload and secondary payloads for the maiden Vega C have been successfully installed onto the payload adapter by teams from OHB Italia and Avio. The flight is currently slated for 7 July at 08:13 local time.
Welcome to the club Slovakia - The 22 Member States of ESA took the decision to admit Slovakia as a new associate member state. The announcement was made by Director General Josef Aschbacher at the end of the 306th ESA council meeting. Slovakia joins Slovenia, Latvia, and Lithuania as the agency’s fourth associate member.
Did someone call the cable guy? - Construction has begun on ESA’s fourth deep-space antenna at the agency’s New Norcia ground station, which is 140 kilometres north of Perth in Western Australia. The 35m antenna is being built to meet the rising demand for communication bandwidth as the agency prepares to launch a new generation of deep-space and space safety missions.
The goddess of the sky gets a delivery - OHB has delivered the propulsion module for ESA’s Hera mission from its facility in Bremen to Avio in Rome. Avio will now integrate propellant tanks, thrusters, and associated pipes and valves. Hera is expected to survey the Dimporphos asteroid, which is the target of the first attempt to alter the orbit of an asteroid by human action in a measurable way. The probe is expected to be launched in October 2024.
UK charting a course to space - The UK Space Agency published a pair of funding calls focused on support for future space exploration and to support research on the International Space Station. The total budget for both funding calls is £4 million.
The goddess of the Earth shares her secrets - ESA has released the latest trove of data from the agency’s Gaia mission. The new data hints at strange “starquakes,” stellar DNA, asymmetric motions, and other fascinating insights. The mission is described as the most detailed Milky Way survey to date. 
Time to meet the Americans - ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson met to discuss the two agencies’ continued partnership. The pair also signed two agreements that sought to expand research on climate change and the launch of the first commercial lunar telecommunication satellite, known as Lunar Pathfinder.
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Andrew Parsonson

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