These are the numbers of ESA’s latest project, Vega C, expected to be flown later in 2022 after the successful launch of Vega VV16, back in September 2020.
We are once again partner of the project, for the technology development, qualification, and construction of the Dispenser Structure for SSMS Vega C, the so-called “take two” of the project.
Space exploration now faces a whole new boundary, thanks to Small Spacecraft Mission Service: the innovative architecture that allows small satellites to be launched together with a single vector, such as Vega and Vega C. This forward-looking approach is born with goals: technology is boosted to implement satellites’ miniaturization, the launch costs can be shared among the companies involved, and space exploration is way much more affordable than it was in the past, especially for start-ups or SMEs.
Just like every improvement, in order to meet the needs of an increasingly dynamic market segment for light-lift launch services, Vega C offers enhanced payload performance at a competitive price. The new rocket is more powerful than its predecessor, being capable of lifting up to 2,300 kilograms in Low Earth Orbit, about 60% more than the previous version. Vega C has the same configuration in common with Vega, consisting of three solid propelled stages and one liquid propelled upper stage. All the components have passed the scheduled tests needed before the first flight. Both have room of 50+ satellites ranging from 15 kg to 150 kg. Moreover, Bercella’s technology has been crucial to develop a monolithic Main Deck to improve overall stiffness, structural continuity but mostly lightness because there are no junctions nor welding.
THE “VOICES” OF THE PROJECT
Regarding the project itself, Davide Solaroli, Head of Sales – Space Division at Bercella, says: “During the preliminary phases of this project, ESA’s quality audit remarked that Bercella was supposed to use a set of dedicated frames and supports to manufacture particularly large components. Moreover, evidence of the concept design was needed for the following week and I remember spending part of the weekend making preliminary sketches, based on the indications of our technical department”.
Following the trail, Marco Nardi, Avio’s Payload adapter and dispenser Program Manager, comments: “SSMS is ESA’s new modular dispenser, subsidised by the European Community, and it has been designed by Avio, just like the Vega launcher family, to make Space accessible also for small satellites constructor (form 1 to 500kg). SSMS-POC launch has been an important milestone for European launchers and mostly for Vega because it paved the way for never made before rideshare launches; in that occasion, 53 satellites reached their orbit with one single vector. Bercella strongly participated in this project with its remarkable know-how, producing all the SSMS dispenser Composites components. This production followed SAB’s specifications, as it is the design authority of the project. All of this was possible thanks to Bercella’s team and management proactive attitude to flexibility and problem solving. Moreover, all of us contributed to the establishment of a solid team working spirit, that we want to carry on also with the development of the new dispenser SSMS Vega C”.
Salvatore Corbo, Project Manager of the SSMS dispenser in SAB Aerospace S.r.o. (CZ) says: “When we started our cooperation with Bercella, we were aware that almost all of the processes and standards followed by Bercella were not fully in line with the European Space Agency standards (ECSS) for the production of Flight Hardware. We spent the first months sharing and discussing documents and procedures to align to ECSS and to properly trace all the steps of the production. At the end, in a very short time, we succeeded to launch together the first SSMS dispenser and we are now fully committed to reach together SSMS Vega C qualification”. And he continues: “Thanks to Vega, multiple launches platforms and rideshare systems saw their popularity increased. Moreover, with Vega, the Czech Republic flag firstly appears on a European rocket, and this is perfectly integrated in our will to continuously participate in UE missions. SAB Aerospace commitment mainly consist in the development and realisation of the dispenser on top of the rocket, in order to contemporarily launch several satellites, without the previous bond of the single launch. Also, we can really say that this project opens our country’s road to Space access”.
ESA Vega Product Assurance Manager, Massimo Panicucci comments: “As Vega PA Manager, I’m use to deeply analyze companies and factories adopting the very strict ECSS protocol for material contamination, clean room design and configuration control; so, when in summer 2017 I walked for the first time in Bercella workshop, I immediately realized the work that was ahead of us in order to match it. Back then, we started planning the first meetings with Bercella engineers and managers and I expressed my concerns and considerations about some revolutions of the workshop layout; of course, several questions and possible simplification were asked by Bercella staff as how to respond in a pragmatic approach to the strict ESA Product assurance rules. The situation was quite challenging, but all the difficulties and all the risk reduction actions were implemented in an impressive short time. The development and qualification steps were fully achieved, and the FM units were ready to be delivered on schedule for the final integration in Czech Republic”. Moreover, such a particular job deserves a description of its own: “The beauty of my job is that it there is always something to learn and acquire and I can confirm that with Bercella I made some of the best memories in more than three decades of professional life in ESA” Massimo Panicucci concludes.
To sum up, CEO Massimo Bercella says: “We are all witnessing an undeniable trend: Space industry wants access to Space to become more and more affordable, while satellites and launchers services are multiplying their offer and enlarging their scope. A traditionally conservative sector for security applications, science and space exploration is evolving today into a high-tech sensitive domain capable of serving multiple fields. Innovation is driving this new Space era.” And he concludes: “Innovation has always been our driver, preparing us over time to play an active role in this evolution. The Vega launch of last fall saw us 100% committed together with all players involved for the success of the mission. A unique emotion for us all. Today we are more than ever ready for exciting new journeys like this one and confirming our position as the Italian market-leader for Composites Structures for Space.”