Could Space Rider be the European Space Agency equivalent of the legendary all-purpose Swiss Army knife?
Space Rider is Europe’s inventive solution for its own affordable and reusable end-to-end integrated space transportation system for unmanned missions and for routine access and return from low orbit. It will be used to transport a variety of payloads into different low Earth orbit (LEO) altitudes and inclinations.
“It’s a fantastic mission,” says Walter Cugno, Vice President, Sciences and Exploration at Thales Alenia Space, responsible as co-contractor for design and development of key aspects of Europe’s next-generation reusable transportation system for LEO. “It will bring together an extraordinary number of capabilities as a platform for experimentation and observation, and able to be launched, returned to earth, and reused.”
Designed as a free-flying orbital platform, Space Rider is capable of remaining two months in orbit, safely re-entering the atmosphere and landing on the ground with a precision of 150 metres. It can be recovered along with its payload, refurbished, and reused for up to six missions.
‘Space for Life’
Indeed, the payloads it brings back to earth could include some of its biggest breakthroughs.
As Walter Cugno explains, “There is so much excitement because there is so much potential. There is already interest from several potential commercial clients in different fields. They include a number of pharmaceutical companies, because the micro gravity environment is ideal for developing drugs and other medicines and then bringing them back to earth.”
In one experiment, cancer cells were reported to have been destroyed in just such a near-gravity-free environment.
In addition, new satellites could be launched into orbit from Space Rider’s bay, satellites already in orbit could be inspected, and space debris collected.
Space Rider also offers great potential for technology demonstration and validation for applications in robotics for space exploration, radiation exposure experimentation, and earth observation instrumentation and telecommunications, as well as Earth disaster monitoring.
Thales Alenia Space was selected for its experience in earth and planetary satellite launch and re-entry, exploration infrastructure once landed, and space telecommunications. “It’s fair to say that few other companies can provide all of the capabilities needed for design and development of Space Rider; we can do all of them, except for the launcher itself,” says Walter Cugno.
He says that Space Rider’s planned launch in 2022 will actually mark the beginning of the next stage of space exploration. “It will demonstrate that we have mastered all of the technologies needed to further explore the Moon, Mars, and then on to the further reaches of the universe, not to mention future applications for point-to-point flights, spaceplanes, and even space tourism.”