March 13, 2012
Vega Materials Tested Extensively
When Vega VV01 launched into orbit on February 13, 2012, it took with it some of the ESA´s most tested materials as well as a good amount of teamwork.
The first of Europe´s Vega rockets is a brand new design based on some new techniques and technologies. Getting all of these designs and implementations through the air and into orbit called for plenty of teamwork as well as rigorous technical risk management by the ESA´s specialists.
Vega VV01 will be used to haul small to medium sized satellites, therefore the lighter the ESA can make Vega, the more weight it can carry. In order to achieve this, Vega is made up of a wide range of new materials aimed at keeping Vega´s overall mass to a minimum.
The Vega design borrowed from the knowledge and experience of building and flying Ariane launchers. In fact, Vega´s first three solid-fueled boosters are derived from Ariane 5´s boosters. Vega´s fourth stage consists of a reignitable liquid-propellant to thrust Vega and its payloads past the atmosphere and into orbit. From there, thrusters control the Vega throughout its flight.
Each part of the Vega took a combined effort of every department in the ESA. Materials experts who weren´t accustomed to working on launchers were able to stretch and expand their knowledge as they worked hand in hand with the launcher teams. The Vega team also had the engineering specialists from the ESA technical center in Noordwijk, the Netherland available for help on the project.
Tommy Ghidini, Head of the Materials Technology Section at ESTEC, told the website ESA.int “It has been out of the ordinary to work on a launcher.”
Recalling stretching the materials to their limits and the testing conducted by his team, Ghidini had this to say: “Instead of hardware that has to go on operating in space for years on end, Vega´s working lifetime lasts slightly more than an hour — but it still has to function without flaw throughout that time.
“Launcher materials really get stressed to their limits: extremely high temperatures combine with high pressures and additional stresses due to shock, vibration, aerodynamic and acoustic forces.
“So the principle is the same, and we assisted the project and the industry side when they ran into difficulties.
“We carried out testing on their behalf, investigated when particular materials didn´t perform as planned and advised on alternatives if necessary.”
The testing stages of the Vega were as extensive as they were stressful. The new carbon phenolic composite nozzles had to be tested to withstand extreme force and temperatures. This was the first time this material had undergone such strenuous tests in Europe.
In addition, the Vega had to be built to withstand corrosive conditions. Between being stored in the humid and salty French Guiana and being in an environment rich with hydrochloric acid, the body of the Vega had to be able to with stand being stored for months in corrosive environments.
The circuitry and computer components had to be built to resist extensive radiation, and the final stage of the rockets had to be built and tested so as not to shake when in use.
In the end, the hard work and teamwork by every member of the ESA paid off was the Vega has a successful liftoff. Says Stefano Bianchi, ESA´s Vega Program Manager, ““I´m grateful to the ESTEC experts for their intense, responsive and proactive support to the Vega team. The success of the maiden flight is the success of our Agency´s technical expertise and rigor.”
Image Caption: Liftoff of Vega maiden flight on February 13, 2012. (Credit: ESA - S. Corvaja)
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