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1st International Convention of Technologies of the Frontier
The global importance of the incoming Space Economy
Medieval Castle of Moncrivello (VC) - April 1st 2006 / 9:30 22:00

PRORA-USV: more Aeronautics in Space

Gennaro Russo (1
Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali

The development and validation of technologies which are able to provide future spacecraft with a wider operational capabilities, is a key factor for a more affordable, easier and quicker access to space. 

A peculiar aspect of the future spacecraft is indeed the possibility to land on any spaceport, in the same way as a conventional transport aircraft. Such an operational capability requires significant R&T steps ahead, specifically in the field of:

  • aero-thermal design and optimization of the vehicle configuration, with the main task of improving aerodynamic performances and thermal management, as compared to past and present operational spacecrafts (Soyuz, Space Shuttle);

  • development of a fully innovative avionics (Health Management) as well as autonomous guidance navigation and control capability allowing maximum down and cross-range flexibility for a wider family of reentry trajectories;

  • development of hot structures based on innovative architectures and very high performance materials, allowing to withstand the very high temperatures and large thermal loads during the re-entry phase into the atmosphere.

The USV program approach consists in the execution of a series of flight tests of increasing complexity, in terms of flight regimes and altitude envelope, with the aim of gradually achieving the final goal of an advanced re-entry capability. For this scope, the design, development and operation of a number of Flying Test Beds (FTBs) represent a relevant effort of the program. The peculiar concept underlying these class of experimental vehicles is that they have to be conceived as flying research laboratories, allowing them to fly within an enlarged operating envelope rather than a pre-defined and fixed pattern. 

System and technology targets that are needed to achieve the final re-entry capability as above depicted, are grouped in two major classes of missions following a complexity criterion related to flight regimes, technologies and launch systems. The first class of missions, which is about to start, will cover all the flight and mission operation issues related to the low atmosphere part of a re-entry pattern, from about 35 Km altitude down to land, the main focus being on aero-structural and flight control of a re-entry vehicle at transonic and low supersonic speed. These missions will be accomplished with the FTB_1 laboratory, using a stratospheric balloon as launch system (first stage). The second class of missions, will cover all the flight regimes interested by a complete re-entry pattern, from LEO orbit down to land. These missions, will be accomplished with the FTB_X laboratory, using VEGA as reference launch system. The maiden flight is presently scheduled around 2010.

The FTB_X mission envelope is defined in order to respond to the major requirement to investigate in flight enhanced lifting re-entry profiles, as compared to conventional either non-lifting (capsules) and lifting (Space Shuttle) profiles, in terms of vehicle manoeuvrability, flight pattern adaptability, and long downrange (re-entry endurance larger than one hour). 

The reference mission profile of FTB_X is a typical re-entry from LEO. Thus, the vehicle will be carried by the VEGA launcher, injected and maintained onto a circular orbit at a height of about 200 km, using the fourth stage of the launcher, before starting de-orbiting and re-entry phases. The intermediate re-entry missions will be conceived according to the USV program incremental logic, thus allowing to gradually test and qualify in flight peculiar system design and enabling technology aspects related to the enhanced lifting atmospheric re-entry, with the aim of reducing technical and programmatic risks with respect to the success of the reference ORT mission. In this respect, Sub-orbital Re-entry Tests (SRT) are aimed at performing partial atmospheric re-entry flights characterized by increasing energy, from relatively low energy, by releasing the vehicle at 40-60 km altitude, up to the 25 MJ/kg of a standard orbital re-entry, in this latter case by releasing the vehicle at 150 km altitude. The major experimental target of such a class of missions consists in the validation and qualification of aero-thermodynamics, GN&C and hot structures, with special focus onto their capability to withstand high thermal loads (heat flux up to 2 MW/m2 and temperatures beyond 2000 oC) associated to advanced re-entry flight patterns (moderate angle of attacks, below 20o, and flight endurance longer than 1 hour). 

(1) Head, Space Programs Office
USV Program Manager
Via Maiorise, 81043 Capua (CE) - Italy 
Phone: +39 823 663334
Fax : +39 823 663335