AVIO Engineers Evolve Vega Rocket Design, Enhance Avionics and Propulsion

Hardware and software engineers at AVIO, a global aerospace company engaged in the construction and development of space launchers and solid and liquid propulsion systems for space travel, with facilities in Italy, France, and French Guyana are actively enhancing the design of the Vega carrier rocket, with a focus on evolving the design with enhanced avionics and propulsion technologies while also maximizing subsystem reuse and reorganizing production processes for a more efficient production chain.

Vega Consolidation (Vega C) is an evolution of the current Vega light launcher for missions in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA).

With Vega C, the load capacity will increase from Vega’s current 1,500 kg to 2,200 kg in Low Earth Orbit, and may meet market demands for satellite-based radars (SAR). The first qualification flight is scheduled for mid-2019.

Vega C’s new Payload Adapter, the VAMPIRE, is under development and will enable a main Payload plus Small Payloads or Cubesats to be placed into orbit. The Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) adapter, also under development, will enable the Vega C to increase the quantity of nanosatellites carried on every individual launch.

The Vega C launcher is based on the existing Vega launcher and reuses several qualified subsystems currently employed on Vega. Like its Vega predecessor, Vega C will consist of three stages based on solid-propulsion engines and one stage based on a liquid propulsion engine:

  • New P120C SRM,
  • New Z40 SRM,
  • Reused Z9, and
  • Modified AVUM, enabling a greater loading capacity than the current one.

Substantial improvements are being made to the avionics architecture of Vega C, including:

  • New electronic thrust vector control actuators (TVCs) for the P120C and Z40 engines, based on the redundancy of the Control Unit and use of thermal batteries;
  • Additional services to the Payload thanks to the introduction of the new MFU MKII multifunction unit, capable of handling multiple separations;
  • Introduction of a GNSS localization system, also used as support for flight safety checks; and
  • Improvements to the flight software for greater flexibility.
Read more: AVIO software developers leverage AdaCore GNAT Pro Assurance for ESA Vega C launch vehicle

The Vega C program will also involve the design and development of new technologies in the field of avionics, such as TTEthernet, hybrid navigation, and TDRS system-based telemetry, which will subsequently be applied in the future evolution of Vega E launcher.

Avio is prime contractor producing the entire new-generation launcher; the P120C Solid Rocket Motor, in cooperation with Ariane Group; and the Z40 SRM, part of the Vega C configuration as the second stage propulsive system. The P120C was derived from the P80 Vega launcher first stage and will be manufactured with carbon-fiber prepreg, material and filament winding technology. It will carry about 143 tonnes of solid propellant, but the P120C was also designed to be used as a lift-off booster for the new Ariane 6 to guarantee absolute synergy between the European launchers.

Avio engineers implemented cost reduction strategies, rationalized the supply chain, and improved system architecture and design to enhance the launching performance and ensure design flexibility and versatility of the Vega C. “Technologies were identified during the strategic planning for Vega enabling future developments by focusing on improvements of its performance achieved by cost reductions, payload comfort and the consolidation of the system integration capabilities within the European industry,” officials say.

Courtney E. Howard  is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International. Contact her by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..