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Vega E, news of the week, and an interesting startup

Europe in Space
Issue 10. Subscribers 287.
Welcome to the first Monday newsletter. I’ve shifted from Fridays because I found that I was missing out on several late-Friday announcements. Plus, I am hoping this is a great way to start off your week. A huge thank you to all the new subscribers - I hope you enjoy your first issue.

The strange parallel evolution of Vega C and Vega E
Proposals for the Vega Evolution or Vega E launch vehicle were first announced in 2012 following the maiden launch of Vega. One of the main drivers behind the project was a desire to eliminate the vehicle’s reliance on the Ukrainian-built RD-843 rocket engine with what would become the M10, a methalox upper stage engine capable of multiple restarts. 
When Vega E was first being proposed, the M10 project was referred to as LM10-MIRA and was a collaborative effort between Avio and Russia’s Konstruktorskoe Buro Khimavtomatiki (KBKhA). The partnership between the two was concluded in 2014, with Avio continuing the development of the engine. According to Avio, however, nothing in the M10 engine as it exists today is Russian. 
In addition to marking the end of the M10 collaboration with KBKhA, 2014 would also mark a peculiar turning point for Vega E. You see, ESA was in the process of finalizing the design for the Ariane 6, a decision that was made at a ministerial-level council meeting later that year. The design was modular and could be launched in a two or four-booster configuration. To reduce, or maybe it would be more apt to say disguise, development, and production costs of Ariane 6, the vehicle would share a common booster with the Vega family of launch vehicles which had been in the market for a bigger booster for its proposed Vega-E launch vehicle. There was a problem with this arrangement, though. 
The M10 engine and the stage it would power wouldn’t be ready in time for Vega E to make use of the booster when it became available. Initially, Ariane 6, powered by the common-core boosters was set to be debuted as early as late 2019, and at that time, Vega E wasn’t expected until 2024 at the earliest.
To ensure that Avio could utilise the booster for its Vega vehicles and to boost the performance of Vega in a rapidly evolving market, a compromise was struck. At the same late 2014 ministerial-level council meeting that saw the approval of the Ariane 6 design, the design for Vega-C is approved. The rocket would utilise the new P120C booster (the “C” standing for common) and the Zefiro-40 second stage. From there upwards, it was basically a Vega rocket retaining the Zefiro-9 third stage with a slightly larger AVUM upper stage and fairing. When funding for the vehicle was approved in 2015, a total of 225 million euros of Vega’s budget was dedicated to the development of the P120C boosters. When this decision was made, Vega-C was set to be introduced as early as 2018.
In 2017, the Vega C debut had slipped to 2019, and ESA could no longer hold off on the progress of Vega E. The agency awarded 53 million euros in funding to Avio to jumpstart the project’s development. From that point on, both Vega-C and Vega-E would be worked on concurrently with Vega-E set to debut in 2024. This funding came with the admission that Vega-C had been a compromise with ESA officials stating that the agency could not meet both short-term and long-term goals with one rocket.
As the world sat unaware of what was to come in early 2019, the Vega C debut slipped to 2020. According to Avio, the change was made to prioritize its 2019 Vega launch manifest over the original plan for the Vega C debut. This, of course, would be followed by the rise of a global pandemic later that year that would put much of Avio’s operations on ice, including the debut of the Vega C launch vehicle and the development of Vega E. It would also push out Vega launches. This would in turn cause headaches for ESA as the agency had to transition some of the payloads destined for Vega to Vega C to ensure the delayed launch manifest did not push out the debut of Vega C even further.
With worldwide vaccinations slowly starting to increase, in July 2021, ESA looked to push past pandemic delays and again jumpstart the Vega E project signing a €118.8 million contract with Avio for the vehicle’s development. This is the current tranche of funding driving the Vega E project as ESA heads into a pivotal ministerial-level meeting later this year.
Vega-C now appears to be close to taking to the skies with all four of the rocket’s stages stacked and awaiting its payload. However, the project has slipped so far that the time between the debut of Vega-C and the introduction of Vega-E could be as little as four years, with the maiden Vega E flight currently set for the middle of 2026. It does leave one questioning if, in hindsight, it would have been better to pour funding and focus into Vega-E instead of disguising funding for Ariane 6 in the books of Vega.
I am in the process of developing the European Spaceflight store and this very unofficial Space Rider blueprint poster will be one of the first products on offer.
I am in the process of developing the European Spaceflight store and this very unofficial Space Rider blueprint poster will be one of the first products on offer.
In the news last week
By your powers combined, I am Captain Space Debris! - OneWeb, Astroscale, the UK Space Agency, and ESA have joined forces to launch a space junk servicer by 2024. The partnership comes with a €14.8 million investment from ESA that will allow Astrocale to complete work on its ELSA-M spacecraft. Once launched, ELSA-M will complete an on-orbit demonstration mission before taking up its role as part of a commercial debris removal service for satellite operators like OneWeb. The spacecraft will be capable of removing multiple decommissioned satellites over a single mission. 
Care for a spot of tea? - US-based smallsat propulsion startup Benchmark Space Systems announced that it would be opening up a production facility in the United Kingdom. The company revealed that UK-based in-orbit manufacturing startup Space Forge had signed on as an anchor customer for the new production facility. Benchmark will supply reusable propulsion systems for the Space Forge ForgeStar spacecraft.
An Italian station roars to life - Avio has announced the second successful test firing of its M10 methalox rocket engine that will be used for its Vega E launch vehicle. The test latest approximately 30 seconds and is the second of many progressively longer test firings to come.
Do I really need a smart toaster? -  Italian IoT company Apogeo Space (formally GP Advanced Projects) received €5 million in funding from long-term backers Primo Space. The company plans to launch its first two nanosatellites by 2023. It expects its entire 100-satellite constellation to be operational by 2027. 
I can see my house being washed away from here - Finish Earth observation data supplier ICEYE has launched a pilot program with ESA to supply the agency’s Copernicus Emergency Management Services (CEMS) team with flood insights. The data will show the extent and depth of flooding to ESA and the CEMS team throughout 2022. The project will allow the CEMS team to evaluate ICEYE’s data and explore potential applications.
We are family! - SmallSpark Space Systems has been accepted into the ESA Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom where the team will work to accelerate the development of the company’s Frost Micro suborbital launch vehicle.
All roads lead to Scotland - SaxaVord Spaceport received planning approval for its last two key elements. The approval allows SaxaVord to build out its Launch and Range Control Centre in the former Valhalla Brewery building and build a new section of road to improve access to the launch site. Construction of all roadworks will be completed before work on the spaceport site begins, the construction of which received planning approval back in March.
Startup of the week: ClearSpace
Many modern satellites are being built with end of life in mind. They are designed with systems that allow their disposal once they are eventually decommissioned. However, these systems aren’t always guaranteed and even if they were, there are hundreds of dead satellites already in orbit around Earth. Enter ClearSpace.
This space debris removal service startup was founded in 2018 with the goal of ensuring a sustainable outlook of Earth’s orbits. The company solution features a set of four large spider-like arms that capture a target and drag it into a destructive trajectory before going after its victim.
In 2019, ClearSpace won an €86 million contract from ESA to remove a Vega payload adapter that was launched in 2013. The mission, which has been dubbed ClearSpace-1, is slated to be launched in 2025.
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Andrew Parsonson

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