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ALTAIR Report Summary

Project ID: 685963
Funded under: H2020-EU.2.1.6.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ALTAIR (Air Launch space Transportation using an Automated aircraft and an Innovative Rocket)

Reporting period: 2015-12-01 to 2017-05-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

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 will be a reusable automated aircraft designed specifically for the launch mission, releasing an expendable launch vehicle at high altitude. This launcher will use environmentally friendly hybrid propulsion, advanced lightweight composite structures, innovative avionics and an upper stage that provides mission versatility. The architecture of the ground systems will target cost-effective operations. ALTAIR's cost effectiveness will be 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. In addition to system design work, flight tests will be conducted with the existing EOLE demonstrator (developed under ONERA's project management for the CNES PERSEUS project), in order to validate key technologies, including the launcher avionics and its release sequence. The output of the project will be a detailed definition of the complete system (carrier, launcher and ground segment), associated with a business plan as well as a development road map and an industrial organization proposal.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

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.
This first design phase was concluded by a Conceptual Design Review (CoDR) which has validated the approach and has identified axes for improvements. 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.
At the end of the period covered by this report, the "Preliminary Design Step 1" has been completed at 60 %. 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. In parallel, work on the ground segment and the future exploitation scenario has continued.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

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.

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