14 May 2021
Thales Alenia Space Italia and CIRA sign the contract for the development of the thermal protection system of Space Rider, the European atmospheric re-entry vehicle
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CIRA, the Italian Aerospace Research Centre, will develop, test and create the Thermal Protection System and the “Body Flap” control surfaces of Space Rider, the European reusable space transport system for low orbit missions.

This is what is established in the contract that Thales Alenia Space Italia and CIRA, represented by its President Giuseppe Morsillo, signed in recent days.

Thanks to the success achieved with the development of the prototype of the control surfaces in ISiComp® ceramic material, CIRA sees the scope of its activities extended, with a contract worth 12.8 million Euros, confirming its key role in the program which represents the European solution for integrated space transport at low costs.

The Space Rider programme, financed by the European Space Agency (ESA), was entrusted, for the development of the re-entry module, to Thales Alenia Space Italia, leading a consortium of European companies, universities and research centres; while Avio, another leading Italian company in the sector, was entrusted with the responsibility of developing the orbital service module. The vehicle will be deployed in low Earth orbit by the new Vega C light launcher, developed by Avio, with a first launch scheduled for the end of 2023.

Fully automated and reusable, the spacecraft will enable sustainable end-to-end unmanned missions to deliver a multiplicity of payloads to different heights and inclinations in low-Earth orbit. Space Rider is able to remain in orbit for two months, then re-enter the atmosphere thanks to its completely reusable thermal protection system and land with a precision of 150 meters. After landing and recovery of the scientific payloads, the shuttle can be reused for up to six missions with limited maintenance operations.

CIRA, in addition to the control surfaces designed, developed and tested in the previous phase of the program, will be responsible for designing and creating the entire thermal protection system of the vehicle in reusable ceramic material. This subsystem, in many ways the most critical of the entire vehicle, is entrusted with the task of dissipating the enormous quantity of energy of the re-entry into the atmosphere, passing in a few centimeters of thickness from temperatures of 1600°C to temperatures of just over 100°C, so as to guarantee the structural integrity of the spacecraft and the survival of the precious payloads contained on board.

What makes this possible is ISiComp®, the ceramic matrix composite material, an expression of the success of an all-Italian supply chain that brings together CIRA’s research activities in the field of space re-entry technologies and industrial capabilities in the sector of the high automotive technology of Petroceramics, a Kilometro Rosso company controlled by the Brembo group.

The advantage of this technology, in addition to being the first in Italy for the production of long fiber C/SiC for thermal protection, is that it has an extremely faster production cycle compared to those used until now for the production of similar components. .

“Space Rider is a frontier program for Europe, which thus expands its skills in a field with high development prospects, that of returning from space, also in the still not fully explored perspective of reusability – commented the President of CIRA, Giuseppe Morsillo – CIRA with its patents and its research and development activities, and the national supply chain with its industrial capabilities, are today an essential hub for marking a decisive step forward, after past experimental programs, opening the way to a strategic perspective of a complementary nature to that of the already consolidated access to space, and essential for a wider exploitation of the opportunities deriving from space activities and a diversified return for the country, not only strategic, but also social and economic, as the repercussions to come will demonstrate”.