Analysis of the Vega launcher for telecommunication missions

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The purpose of the activity is to identify the nature and the characteristics of missions of telecommunication satellites that could be launched by current and future evolution of Vega launcher offering a commercial competitive advantage.

To afford the problem a team composed of worldwide leaders in the space activities has been settled: ELV (VEGA prime contractor) in charge of analyses and evaluation of Launcher aspects as well as End to End (E2E) mission design in collaboration with TAS-I, European leader in satellite systems, SES, world leading satellite operator, SNECMA European leader on Hall Effect electric thruster and NITEL (National inter-university consortium for transports and logistics) who supported the small spacecraft mission analysis with its  500 affiliate researchers belonging to 19 italian universities.
In order to verify the attractiveness of opportunity provided by VEGA a careful analysis has been conducted on the actual TLC satellites applications which can be categorized in:
- Single satellite in GEO orbit providing continuous coverage of a specific area, or multiple areas.
- Satellite constellations in Lower orbit (from LEO to MEO) providing coverage of a larger area even global.
VEGA launcher like the other small launchers cannot compete with Medium–Heavy launchers for the above mentioned “standard TLC missions” mainly for two reasons:
1) Insufficient performance for direct GTO insertion
2) Single launch of Large Leo constellation satellites not commercially attractive for deployment of constellations.
In order to design commercial attractive mission opportunity on board VEGA  modifications to the actual scenario are needed:
1.     New missions:
  • Constellations of smaller Payload which can be launched in cluster by VEGA for specific applications.
  • New orbits alternatives to the geostationary orbit for similar applications.
2.  New Spacecraft architecture. Introduction of electric propulsion on spacecraft and/or significant increase of communication performance
3.  Enhanced VEGA. Modifications of VEGA to cope with bigger satellites or capacity to reach higher orbits.
These modifications applied also in combination can lead to identification of TLC of commercial interest to be flown on VEGA.
Key issue of the project has been to demonstrate the profitability of future TLC missions by using the Vega LV service and the limitations coming from the actual VEGA.
For GEO spacecrafts:
  • The small size of the Vega and Vega C P/L Fairing limits the number of installed channels onboard the spacecraft to 4 KW. A minimum diameter for the hosting of a 6 KW spacecraft has been identified and feasibility with VEGA E addressed.
  • Electric propulsion is mature to debut on all-electric spacecraft, some issue are still open. Engine lifetime, Solar Array degradation in the hard radiative environment, but are considered affordable in the short term. Among the different types of propulsion the HET (Hall effect thruster) has been demonstrated the only viable solution, in the short to medium term, for attaining a LEO-GEO transfer compliant with the duration requirement.
For MEO spacecrafts, VEGA and VEGA C launcher have a lack of performance for direct injection of O3b spacecraft in its intended final orbit, whereas VEGA E in its actual intended configuration could orbit one spacecraft at time. The lack of performance of the actual and short term configurations can be recovered by the use of EPS as fifth stage of VEGA. In such case the delivery in the final orbit of one spacecraft at time in relatively short time has been demonstrated. The EPS has been designed to carry two O3b at time at the cost of a longer transfer duration. Both solutions are considered appealing for commercial market
For LEO spacecraft. VEGA , VEGA C are able to put in orbit a cluster of mini-satellites. Different deployment strategies have been analyzed leading to the identification of the following best options:
  • Non SSO constellation. Deployment for each launch of a large number of satellites. Depending on the constellation characteristics  (spacecrafts with or w/o on board propulsion, orbital planes and phasing) this is possible with actual VEGA or with the adoption of the EPS
  • SSO constellation. Deployment of few satellites per launch (3 to 6 depending on the satellite mass) as piggy back of a standard VEGA P/L (this constraints the orbit inclination)
The all electric GEO spacecraft together with a low cost launch service as VEGA already demonstrated their commercial competiveness, in addition to the opportunity to establish a European space asset in response to the US recent achievements.
This study aims to show the Vega opportunities for short and long term period, and attractive fields resulted the Small C band GEO, Small C/Ku band GEO  (replacement without growth or market opener), Ka band MEO single launch at optimized cost, Next generation Ka band MEO.
Nano-satellite constellation could be a new key issue in the TLC market and for their deployment Vega can address is low-lift/low-cost vocation.
The study has been conducted considering the full spectrum of missions ranging from constellations of nanosatellites (<100 Kg) to Medium Geo spacecrafts (6 KW installed power).
Technical economical viability of different missions have been studied considering the Standard Vega and its short term planned evolutions Vega C. Outcomes of the activity has been used to define “TLC oriented” mission requirements for  the long term evolution VegaE.
Following candidate missions have been analysed and compatibility with VEGA and its intended evolution evaluated:
  • GEO mission considering full electric satellite (4 Kw and 6 KW installed power)
  • MEO mission considering actual O3b platform transferred to 8000 Km by a Electric Propulsion System (EPS) to be added as Fifth stage of VEGA launcher
  • LEO mission. Dual launch of Large LEO platforms (EliteBus) or deployment of nanoconstellations as clusters of 10-20 (using the EPS) or as piggy back (3-6 at time) of a larger LEO satellite.
The activity has been divided in three main Tasks:
1. The first Task, having a 2 months duration, is aimed at the production of the elements and evidences for attaining a Mission Requirement Review (MRR). The core of the activity is the identification of TLC missions compatible with VEGA in the short (<2015) and medium to long term. The activity is composed of three main lines of investigation
  • Identification of commercial opportunities.
  • Review of VEGA positioning (in terms of performance) w.r.t. these commercial opportunities.
  • Selection and Specification of Mission scenario meeting the VEGA launcher constraints and having a commercial interest.
2. The second Task, having a 5 months duration, is aimed at the definition for each mission scenario of a system architecture. Detailed analyses have been performed at this stage on the technical and programmatic side. The baseline design will cover the most important aspects of the System architecture (launcher, orbit, Spacecraft) and related budgets as well as the associated costs (recurring and non-recurring). It ends with a Baseline Design Review (BDR).

3. The third Task has been aimed at the definition of a programmatic roadmap and the definition of a demonstration program.  At the end of this task is foreseen the Final Review (FR).

Current status

The project has been completed with a successful Final Review.

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