Europe to Study Semi-Reusable Launcher for Small Satellites – Satellite Today


A possible vehicle architecture for the future ALTAIR air‐launch system. Photo: ONERA

[Via Satellite 12-02-2015] The French Office National d’Etudes et Recherches Aerospatiales (ONERA) is leading a study with partners in six European nations on the feasibility of a low cost system for launching small satellites. The three-year research program, known as the Air Launch space Transportation using an Automated aircraft and an Innovative Rocket (ALTAIR) project is under the European Union H2020 research and innovation program, and has the goal of demonstrating the industrial practicality of a launcher for 50 to 150 kg satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) altitudes between 400 and 1,000 kilometers.

ALTAIR will use a semi‐reusable “air launch” system, whose carrier will be a reusable automated aircraft, releasing an expendable launch vehicle at high altitude. The launch system is expected to use environmentally friendly hybrid propulsion, advanced lightweight composite structures, avionics and an upper stage providing mission versatility. The architecture of the ground systems will also target cost‐effective operations.

At the conclusion of the study, ONERA and partners are to produce a detailed definition of the complete system — carrier, launcher and ground segment — along with a business plan, a development road map and an industrial organization proposal. The ONERA-developed Eole demonstrator is to perform flight tests in order to validate key technologies, including the launcher avionics and its release sequence.

ONERA’s partners for the ALTAIR project include the French Space Agency (CNES) and French company Bertin Technologies, along with Italy’s Piaggio Aerospace, GTD Sistemas de Informacion of Spain, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, NAMMO Raufoss in Norway, and SpaceTec Partners of Belgium.

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