ESA admits inaugural flight of the Space Rider in the Azores

The European Space Agency will decide during the second quarter of 2024 on the landing site for the first flights of Space Rider, Europe's future reusable uncrewed orbital vehicle. Santa Maria, in the Azores, remains one of the best possibilities, even for the maiden flight: "I'm here to push for it. Santa Maria is a good option", says ESA's Director of Flight Programmes, Stefano Bianchi, promising to make a decision quickly.

An ESA delegation visited the island of Santa Maria, Azores, this Monday, 5 February, as part of the decision process on the landing site for Space Rider, which is currently undergoing testing and validation. 

“I’m here basically for the Space Rider because Santa Maria is, since the beginning, one of the options for the landing of Space Rider. Why in Santa Maria? Because the location is wonderful in terms of Space operations and has adaptable facilities. It will need little upgrading to enable this landing,  Space Rider being the first European reusable vehicle able to land”, states Stefano Bianchi.  

The president of the Portuguese Space Agency, Ricardo Conde, welcomes the support received today from ESA and guarantees that the Portuguese Space Agency will take “all the necessary measures to ensure that the island of Santa Maria will be ready to receive the Space Rider’s maiden flight if that is the ESA’s intention”. “There are some constraints that require analysing the orbital plans, and that also depends on Vega’s plans, but we will have time to prepare,” he says.  

Space Rider, the ESA’s reusable, uncrewed orbital laboratory, is currently in the testing and validation phase. This vehicle aims to provide an integrated space transport system for access to and return from space for commercial customers. Once launched, Space Rider will remain in orbit for two months, allowing customers to conduct experiments and technological tests., after which it will return to Earth. 

To support Space Rider’s future activities, Portugal is already doing the necessary work to set up the Santa Maria Space Technology Centre. “We’re talking about a capacity integration centre that will support the research activities and scientific experiments carried out on the Space Rider,” explains Ricardo Conde, stressing that it has already been decided that an experiment from the University of Coimbra’s LIP will be on board the Space Rider’s maiden flight. 

Portugal Space
5 of February, 2024