European Space Agency (ESA) member states have backed the continued development of the agency’s reusable Space Rider Spacecraft. The agency hopes to launch the maiden Space Rider mission aboard a Vega C as soon as 2022.
During the ESA Spacex19+ ministerial meeting held in Seville, Spain late last month, member states committed to a budget of €14.4 billion ($15.9 billion), the agency’s largest to date. In addition to providing funding for Earth observation, technology demonstration, and the evolution of the Vega rocket, the budget saw oversubscribed contributions for the Space Rider program.
Space Rider is a reusable spacecraft that can be launched aboard a Vega rocket, remain in orbit for extended missions, and then return to Earth for recovery and reuse. The spacecraft is similar to US Air Force X-37B and will be capable of carrying up to 800 kilograms (1,700 pounds) of scientific equipment and technology demonstrations.
A total of 10 member states committed to contributing funding to the Space Rider program, with Italy providing 75% of the total. Although this uneven split of funding has prompted many to question whether Space Rider is really just a glorified national program, ESA director general Jan Woerner has defended the outcome stating, “each and every member state has its specific competence, and that is good.”
In addition to a number of European space programs, the new ESA budget has pledged support for several international efforts. The budget allocated support for the International Space Station until 2030 and transportation and habitation modules for NASA’s lunar Gateway space station. It also allocated funding for NASA’s Mars Sample Return and Hera asteroid deflection demonstration missions.