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Air Launch space Transportation using an Automated aircraft and an Innovative Rocket

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ALTAIR (Air Launch space Transportation using an Automated aircraft and an Innovative Rocket)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2019-11-30

"The market of small satellites under 200 kg is expected to increase dramatically in the next decades due to several factors such as miniaturization, availability of Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) components and satellite constellation projects. Today, solutions for the launch of small satellites (piggyback launch or cluster launch) exist but they have constraints and do not adress adequately the market. A dedicated launch system providing an available and reliable launch service without these constraints would enable the development of small satellites applications, provided it is also affordable and reliable.
The ALTAIR project (Air Launch space Transportation using an Automated aircraft and an Innovative Rocket) is aimed at preparing the development of such a launch system. ALTAIR's strategic objective is to demonstrate the economic and technical viability of a future available, reliable and competitive European launch service for the access to space (Low-Earth Orbit) of small satellites in the range of 50-150 kg. ALTAIR is focused on an innovative semi-reusable ""air launch"" system, whose carrier is a reusable automated aircraft designed specifically for the launch mission, releasing an expendable launch vehicle at high altitude. This launcher uses environmentally friendly hybrid propulsion, advanced lightweight composite structures, innovative avionics and an upper stage that provides mission versatility. The architecture of the ground systems targets cost-effective operations. ALTAIR's cost effectiveness is achieved jointly through its concept of operations, a cost-oriented design approach for all subsystems (carrier, launcher and ground segment) and multidisciplinary design optimisation (MDO) approach. One objective of the project is to obtain a detailed design definition of the whole ALTAIR system. The design work is carried out taking into account market studies, which are updated throughout the project. Besides the detailed technical definition of the ALTAIR system, the other main output of the project is the definition of the business model and a development roadmap
In addition, as a support to the technologies considered in the future ALTAIR system, the project includes flight experiments using the existing EOLE demonstrator, previously developed by ONERA (prime contractor), CNES and Aviation Design (manufacturer) in the frame of the CNES PERSEUS project. The first objective of ALTAIR flight experiments with EOLE is to validate in flight a demonstrator of the innovative launcher avionics system designed by GTD. The second objective is to fly-test the complete launcher release procedure and manoeuvres, using ONERA guidance & control laws and a small-scale model of the release mechanism designed by Piaggio Aerospace. These tests use a small-scalemock-up of the ALTAIR rocket, equipped only with avionics (no propulsion). The flight experiment plan starts with line-of-sight (LOS) captive flights of the rocket model at the St Yan airfield in France and ends with beyond-visual-line (BLOS) flights performed at CNES' Guyana Space Centre (CSG) in French Guyana, the last one targetting the actual release of the rocket mock-up."
"The project started with a preliminary work for the definition of high level requirements for the ALTAIR launch system, as well a a first choice of the mission associated target cost, taking into account a market analysis which will be updated throughout the project.
After this preliminary work, concluded by a Requirement Review, the project entered the multidisciplinary system design work, organized in three successive design loops. The objective of the first loop, which lasted 6 month, and was named ""First conceptual design loop"", was to obtain a first feasible design for the carrier+launcher Altair system and to get a first experience of joint design work between the different work packages. The goal of the second loop, lasting 14 month and named ""Preliminary Design Step 1"", is to obtain a preliminary design based on a more integrated multidisciplinary design optimization approach and refined models. This design loop includes interactions with the mission definition, market analysis and business model tasks. It has led to improved design for the carrier and the launcher and a mass reduction of about 33 % compared to the first conceptual design.
Finally, a third loop called ""Preliminary Design Step 2"" was performed ending in November 2018 in order to consolidate the design and work further on the reduction of costs.
At the end of this 3-year phase of the project, a detailed definition of the whole ALTAIR system (carrier, launcher & ground segment) has been obtained, along with a credible business model and a development roadmap. The ALTAIR reference mission is set to the launch of a 150 kg payload to a 600 km-altitude Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO), with a yearly launch rate of 30. The development roadmap includes different scenarios according to the initial investment.
The flight experiment program with the EOLE small-scale demonstrator has culminated with a successful final flight at CSG including the demonstration of the most critical flight phase of the mission: the launcher release sequence, performed fully automatically. This final flight, which took place on September 7th, 2019 at CSG, has successfully demonstrated critical technologies for air-launch: the GNC (Guidance, Navigation & Control) laws for the release maneuver, the release/separation mechanism and the innovative launcher avionics (that was aboard the inert rocket mock-up).

Communication about the Altair project led to:
- 13 papers and presentation in european and international conferences (IAC, EUCASS, IAASS, 4S, ERTS, ...)
- participation to european professionial and academic events (Paris Air Show, Barcelona Techno Week, Summer School of the Community of Ariane Cities, ...).
- several appearances in mainstream and professional media (Air & Cosmos, L'Express, Les Echos, ...)
- communication materials: brochure, posters, stickers and mission patches, communication video."
Progress beyond the state of the art:

1) System - air-launch concept:
Air launch with an unmanned (autonomous) carrier.

2) Aircraft carrier: automation
Fully-automated air-launch system.

3) Versatile orbital module for multiple payloads delivery and services:
Game-change innovation on the upper stage design, to accommodate a variety of unitary passive or active payloads and to enable in-orbit payload servicing. Such innovation will extend the launcher market range and add significant value-sharing between the upper stage and payloads

4) Rocket part: hybrid propulsion
- Better knowledge of the technology
- Increase European knowhow on air-launch with high flight-path-angle release.
- Synergy with other projects for higher probability of success
- Acceptance of hybrid propulsion as replacement to liquid or solid engines

5) Innovative avionics for the launchers:
- Reduction on avionics IV&V costs through missionisation, improvement of launcher RAMS, responsiveness and flexibility.
- Reduction of avionics mass and volume (contributing to an increase of payload capabilities).
- TRL Increase from 4 to 5 through test flights.

6) Lightweight composite structure for the launch vehicle
Reduction of the launcher structure mass (contributing to an increase of payload capabilities).

7) Ground preparation and operations: automation
Increased flexibility and reduced recurrent costs.