In 2021, The European Space Agency (ESA) believes they will perform the qualification flight of the Space Rider spaceplane followed by multiple demonstration missions before the program is handed over to industry, as reported by Lucia Linares, the head of ESA space transportation strategy and policy.
Linares was speaking at the PhiWeek, a five-day conference centred around the future of Earth observation, which began on Nov. 12 and runs until Nov 16 at the ESA Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy.
Linares said the private sector was very interested in the spaceplane during a recent Space Rider workshop.
Linares added that they saw significant interest from commercial companies, whether it was for pharmaceutical applications or even health issues, such as testing how blood circulates in microgravity.
Space Rider, a continuation of ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), which flew in space in 2015, is capable of holding up to 800 kilograms of payload for orbital missions with a duration as long as two months. The platform would enable payload to be exposed to microgravity and the space environment for a more extended period, after which it would be sent back to Earth.
As per Linares, they intend to have many demonstration missions to show a range of capabilities, from in-orbit demonstration and validation to defence and security applications and, obviously, commercial opportunities.
Linares also said that both the ESA and their partner Arianespace are preparing for a proof-of-concept flight of the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, which is slated to happen in early 2019. The mission will test a new smallsat dispenser aboard the Vega rocket, Arianespace’s smallest launcher.
After announcing the list of opportunities for the demonstration in 2017, the agency received an overwhelming response primarily from the commercial industry. Linares confirmed that they received a vast number of proposals: 71 replies, 166 spacecraft, of which only 30 are institutional.
They have selected the aggregate that will fly on the first proof-of-concept flight, which is made up of seven nano and microsatellites, over half of which are commercial and up to 44 CubeSats in up to 12 deployers, added Linares.
Moreover, Linares stated that ESA prioritized missions aimed at Earth observation to be part of the demo flight.
She also stated that the agency is looking to support commercial micro-launcher developments, according to the ESA Director General Jan Woerner’s vision of the agency, who sees ESA’s role in what he dubs Space 4.0 era as an enabler of private endeavours instead of being the dominant funder or chief implementer of projects.
Linares concluded that they want to follow this paradigm and go along with the request of commercial actors in Europe. When they have an idea that is privately funded, which they believe in, then the ESA can support them and build competitiveness in Europe.