WASHINGTON — The European House Company is grappling with a number of points that might go away Europe quickly with out its personal entry to house by this summer season.
In a Jan. 23 press briefing, ESA Director Normal Josef Aschbacher mentioned that house transportation points, together with the December failure of a Vega C and the delayed introduction of the Ariane 6, are amongst his greatest issues coming into the brand new 12 months
“That is one thing that, let me simply be very clear with you, is without doubt one of the greatest challenges we’ve got in Europe at present,” he mentioned of house transportation. That may be a mixture of the Vega failure and Ariane 6 delays, together with the lack of the Soyuz rocket final 12 months as fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the approaching retirement of the Ariane 5, slated to make its ultimate launch in June.
“As of the center of this 12 months, we wouldn’t have assured entry to house for Europe by European launchers, and it is a enormous drawback for all of us,” he mentioned. “We have to actually work on this to get again to ensure entry to house for Europe once more.”
He mentioned the investigation into the Dec. 20 Vega C launch failure is ongoing. He and different ESA officers on the briefing supplied no new technical details about the failure, persevering with to state that the failure was linked to the rocket’s second stage. The investigation is anticipated to wrap up within the second half of February, Aschbacher mentioned.
ESA has not estimated how lengthy it’ll take to return the Vega C to flight. Nevertheless, as a result of the second stage of the Vega C is completely different from the stage used on the unique Vega, it could be doable to renew Vega flights first, mentioned Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA director of house transportation. Arianespace beforehand mentioned there have been two Vega launches remaining on its backlog, with about dozen extra utilizing the newer Vega C.
Aschbacher mentioned it was a “high precedence” to return the Vega C to flight as quickly as doable, “however underneath the suitable situations,” noting two earlier failures of the Vega earlier than the December Vega C failure. “It requires a deep evaluation of among the high quality points and we’ll look into this very severely.”
As ESA investigates the Vega C failure, it’s coming into the ultimate phases of testing of the Ariane 6. That features a Jan. 20 hot-fire check of the rocket’s Vinci upper-stage engine at a facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany. That check lasted for greater than 900 seconds and examined each the engine and the higher stage’s auxiliary energy unit.
“It allowed us to completely check in nominal situations the brand new higher stage,” Neuenschwander mentioned. Future checks, he mentioned, will look at the stage efficiency in “degraded” situations.
Assessments are additionally persevering with on the launch web site to check the combination of the launch car with floor gear. Electrical checks are underway now with checks of fluid connections scheduled for March. That can be adopted by hot-fire checks of the Vulcain 2.1 engine used within the first stage of the Ariane 6.
ESA mentioned final fall it was focusing on an inaugural Ariane 6 launch within the fourth quarter of 2023. Aschbacher caught to that schedule on the briefing however mentioned it was too early to supply a extra exact launch date.
As ESA offers with the Vega C and Ariane 6, the company can also be contemplating methods to assist industrial improvement of small launch automobiles in Europe. Aschbacher mentioned he requested the company’s house transportation directorate to look into potential competitions to fly ESA payloads on these rockets, making awards even earlier than the primary launch of the automobiles.
He mentioned that ESA would proceed to attend till a car has made one profitable flight earlier than launching satellites on them however may signal contracts for these launches earlier for 2 causes. “Initially, it could actually speed up the event on their facet,” he mentioned, “but in addition to offer them reassurance that they’ve an anchor buyer who is able to fly with them.”
Europe additionally continues to take care of the lack of the Soyuz rocket. It led ESA in October to announce it would launch its Euclid astrophysics mission, originally intended to launch on Soyuz, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as a substitute. That launch is scheduled for the third quarter of this 12 months, Aschbacher mentioned, seemingly in July.
There have been studies that Russia and France have been negotiating the return of Soyuz boosters in French Guiana, maybe in trade for the 36 OneWeb satellites which were in storage in Baikonur since Russia canceled their Soyuz launch in March 2022. There are “two and a half” Soyuz boosters in French Guiana, Neuenschwander mentioned.
Aschbacher declined to touch upon the studies of a possible swap of Soyuz boosters for OneWeb satellites, calling it a difficulty for the Russian and French governments.
With Soyuz now not launching from French Guiana, one situation is what to do with the Soyuz launch web site, which was funded by European governments. Neuenschwander mentioned one choice is to transform it right into a launch web site for small launch automobiles. Alternatively, he mentioned it may merely be used as a storage space.