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Advancing Space Access Capabilities - Reusability and Multiple Satellite Injection

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ASCenSIon (Advancing Space Access Capabilities - Reusability and Multiple Satellite Injection)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-12-31

Space science and technology surrounds us in our everyday life, sometimes without us even noticing, such as faster internet via space data highways, weather forecasts, navigation, precision farming or natural disaster monitoring, to only name a few benefits for European society. Key to these benefits is an independent and affordable access to space. This recognition has been confirmed during the Ministerial Council in December 2016, where the 22 member states of the European Space Agency decided that it is a major goal to ensure European autonomy in accessing and using space in a safe and secure environment. Yet today, the space sector is rapidly changing. It is evolving from being the preserve of governments of a few spacefaring nations to a situation with a multitude of diverse space actors around the world, including the emergence and consolidation of private companies. Payload developers are setting up new requirements for launch services. With a significant trend towards smaller satellites and upcoming mega-constellations of several thousand satellites, the space sector faces opportunities for a new dimension of space utilisation.
The launcher market, enabler of the utilisation of space, is a big part of this transition. About 8 years after the ending of the Space Shuttle programme, the successful landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 usher a new age of Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs). These achievements were enabled by shifting the launcher development, manufacturing and integration from governmental institutions to commercial industry. While new companies like SpaceX are rapidly increasing their market share, other highly ambitious space fairing nations outside the United States like China, India and New Zealand are further intensifying the competition and thus the pressure on Europe. The evolution of international collaborations remains uncertain with respect to ongoing political changes. Europe tries to counteract with the development of Vega C/E and Ariane 6. These launchers shall be economically competitive and guarantee an independent access to space for Europe at the same time. The outcome of this highly dynamic development is hardly predictable. Yet if Europe does not want to fall behind, one thing is certain: Europe does not only need innovations, but primarily a new generation of engineers, able to understand the full complexity of launcher development and trained to create and realise the necessary innovations.
For this very purpose, the ASCenSIon project will develop a research and training programme that focuses on several specific areas of cutting-edge space access research. The acronym “ASCenSIon” stands for “Advancing Space Access Capabilities – Reusability and Multiple Satellite Injection”. It comprises our vision to contribute to the establishment of a both ecologically and economically sustainable space access for Europe (i.e. by reusable systems / components), which is oriented towards user needs. However, besides representing our main scientific research aim of advancing space transport, the acronym describes the core objective of promoting a new class of space scientists that are not only excellent specialists in their respective field, but who also have a thorough understanding for the complexity, multidisciplinary and internationality of launcher development in order to become leaders in the European effort of utilising space. This includes recognising requirements from different stakeholders (e.g. space agencies, industry primes, private market and sub-contractors) and having the complementary transferable skills to ascend beyond the current PhD standard.
Given the high multi-disciplinal and multi-sectoral approach of ASCenSIon, the main work performed during the reporting period and the results achieved are summarized with reference to the technical Work Packages of ASCenSIon:
Within WP2, study cases have been carried out in the fields of advanced nozzle concepts, fatigue life analysis of rocket engines, environmental impact and space propellant of launcher industry, systematic design studies of reusable launchers.
The goal of WP3 is to develop critical technologies for advanced upper stage concepts capable of injecting multiple payloads to multiple orbits, particularly focusing on the interaction of GNC and propulsion. Some of the ongoing researches focus on: how current toxic upper stages may efficiently be replaced by more sustainable alternatives; best integration strategies of green propellants; development and numerical investigation of regression rate enhancing combustion chamber design; development of a combustion chamber, paraffin printer and tests for hybrid rockets; analyses of the advantages and challenges connected to the implementation of electric pumps into upper stages thrusters; studies on the challenge of multi satellite delivery from a GNC point of view and creation of dedicated models; studies on the reliability of current systems to identify weak points in the framework of space debris.
Within WP4, the activities focused on understanding literature for aerodynamic control surfaces design and utilisation as actuators for re-entry control, with particular attention on vertical fins located on reusable first stage boosters. This was followed by simplified modelling to include them in the overall controlled dynamics which included, so far, the thrust vector control. In this context, first simulations highlighted the sensitivity to the geometrical configuration and physical location along the booster to be either effective or leading to instability. A database construction is ongoing to collect aerodynamics data for different aerodynamics sections and different flight conditions, in coordination with analytical models’ preliminary settlement to predict aerodynamic coefficients and heat fluxes according to different shapes and attitude during the guided optimized precision landing.
The next steps of the project are as follows:
WP2 will focus on the systematic analysis of the application of advanced nozzle concepts for reusable launchers and on the environmental impact assessment and eco-design of reusable launchers.
Within WP3 it is expected to produce specific requirements for design and performance criteria of main stages and assist safe disposal and space debris mitigation effects. This will be perfomed through dedicated investigations, design and analyses of alternative propulsion technologies and their integration, as well as the validation through experimental investigations.
In WP4 the activities will go towards the development and generalisation of the mission profile for re-entry. Further work on the definition of the approach to the flight reliability along the re-entry path will be addressed, as well as the spinning in methodologies typically applied to space assets. In parallel, modelling for different strategies for disposal and safe reentry are kept being researched through dedicated modelling
These activities are interconnected and each single one needs to be addressed to secure and improve Europe’s leading position in space access and utilisation in the future. This will be ensured by fulfilling the main technical objectives of the project: a) Developing novel tools to be integrated in multi-disciplinary codes for advanced launcher design, b) Advancing the TRL of critical RLV technologies; c) Enabling upper stages for multiple payloads / orbits injections.
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