ArianeGroup futurist sees smallsat standardization as key for timely launch

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BREMEN, Germany — Standardization of small satellites would simplify ride-sharing services, allow more frequent and timely launches and help launch providers fill empty capacity, according to Marc Valés, head of future programs at ArianeGroup.

Speaking at Space Tech Expo Europe here, Valés said that in addition to the existing cubesat standard, 50-kilogram-class nanosatellites should also be standardized. The 150-kilogram platform OneWeb is using for its constellation of hundreds of low-Earth-orbit broadband satellites should be accepted as another standard, Valés said.

Vega-C Avio
Artist’s concept of the Vega C rocket. Credit: Avio.

Satellite makers who complied with such standards would benefit from better launch prices and could wait until shortly before launch to deliver their spacecraft to the launch site.

“If you want to go in a bus, you need to be suited to go in a bus, or you need to ask for a dedicated taxi for yourself,” Valés said during a panel discussion on small satellite launch. “There would be a launch system designed to fit with your dimensions, interfaces and you will pay for that, or you accept that your interfaces — which can be mechanical, the mass, power, or anything — fits to a standard and then you can go in a bus.”

Valés said that on its LEO and medium-Earth-orbit missions, ArianeGroup frequently has several hundred kilograms to several tons of unused capacity, which could be made available to smallsat operator with advanced notice.

“When we plan the mission with the big launcher, we can say there will be five spaces for OneWeb-like satellites, 25 or 50 spaces for a nanosat standard and 200 spaces for cubesats,” he said. “Just ask for it, if you can ask for it two years in advance, that’s perfect. If you ask a week in advance, maybe we still have some room.”

Valés, however, said ridesharing is not the right solution for all smallsat customers and that some will still need dedicated micro-launchers.

An official with Italian rocket-maker Avio, which manufactures Europe’s small-lift Vega launcher, also said standardization of interfaces between satellites and launchers would be necessary to provide more timely services to small satellite operators.

Avio is leading a consortium developing a small satellite dispenser to be used on the upcoming Vega C rocket.

Speaking during the small satellite launcher discussion here, Marcello di Costa, marketing strategies and business development manager at Avio, said the company is currently looking for partners among satellite manufacturers that would help them drive the standardization process.

“The standardization process must involve both sides — the launcher vehicle and satellite,” di Costa said. “We are asking operators and manufacturers of satellites to interface with us to get as much as possible to a certain level of standardization that would allow for a launch service that is tailored for the small satellite segment.”

Di Costa said the Small Spacecraft Mission Service project (SSMS), funded by the European Space Agency as part of Vega C development, will undergo a review next month.

“The implementation of the SSMS will be performed by the end of next year with a proof of concept flight operated with Vega,” di Costa said.

“In 2019, we will perform the first flight with Vega C. The goal of such a project is to exploit the proven reliability and flexibility of the Vega launch system, putting together the base that is Vega C with a dedicated dispenser and processes to target the small satellite segment from 1kg to 400 kg launching to low Earth orbit. “

The SSMS dispenser, to be integrated on top of Vega’s Attitude and Vernier Upper Module, or AVUM, upper stage, will have a modular design to accommodate various payload configurations.

Avio company ELV is the main contractor on the development, with Italy’s SAB Aerospace manufacturing the modular carbon fiber dispenser.

“We want to provide dedicated ride-share mission service with cost as low as possible, launching regularly from the Guyana Space Centre,” di Marco said.