The European Space Agency, in partnership with Thales Alenia Space and Avio, has signed a $200 million contract to develop Space Rider. Space Rider is a robotic orbital spaceplane that will be deployed in the next three years aboard a dispensable rocket. The agreement allows Thales Alenia Space to develop the Space Rider’s reusable model, while Avio will develop a dispensable service module and propulsion unit. The launch of the spaceplane will be via the Vega C rocket, a product of Avio in partnership with Arianespace. However, the rocket is not part of the agreement in signing the $200 million project. Space Rider is a product of the redeveloped Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV), which made a one-time mission five years ago, spending minutes in space before returning to Earth.
Space Rider imitates IXV’s design in the pressurized reentry module, which can host 800 kilograms of cargo in its cargo compartment. The dispensable service module will ensure that the spaceplane spends more time in its orbit and offer free-flying orbital opportunities for various missions equivalent to those conducted by the X-37B robotic spaceplanes. Space Rider’s design analysis will be done from July to August of next year. The final analysis will inform the early conduction of test flights before the actual mission. If all the plans go as scheduled, then the Space Rider will take off from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, aboard the Vega C rocket between September and November 2023. The engineers will develop the spaceplane in such a way that it can stay in space for two months before releasing its service module and scheduling it back to Earth.
ESA is in the process of laying ground rules for the two docking locations to the Space Rider on its reentry mission. The executives stated that it would be best if the spaceplane returned to the Guiana Space Center. The other appropriate location would be Santa Maria Island in Portugal amidst the Azores archipelago. The module that will reenter Earth is designed with precision such that it would need few adjustments before embarking on another mission. The engineers who developed it anticipate it to make six missions before it is discarded.
The chief executive of Avio, Giulio Ranzo, stated that Space Rider would conduct various operations in its missions with the possibility of running in-orbit services. Avio and Thales Alenia Space started establishing the Space Rider three years ago before receiving ESA’s support. The ESA became the primary funding agency that has been instrumental in the progress of the project.