SPACE DOMAINS // SPACE TRANSPORTATION

Space rider

Space Rider is a cornerstone of the Democratisation of Space.

© ESA – J. Huart 

The Space Rider’s success will depend mainly on the capacity to connect space and non-space, including the success of the first qualification flight. In this respect Portugal is committed to contributing to the success of Space Rider by supporting and fostering its commercial exploitation.

Space Rider is an ESA project that will allow Europe to have operational transportation for in-space operations and return from space, whereby empowering European industry to open new markets.

The Space Rider system, built to be the first European reusable space transportation system, will offer an operational re-entry and landing capacity based on a multi-purpose unmanned free-flyer platform. Italy is leading the flight and ground segments with the support of some other European countries and Portugal is seeking to support the success of this critical project through substantial involvement in the ground segment and downstream activities.

A central  element of the Portuguese contribution to this unique project is the creation of a landing site on Island of Santa Maria, in the Azores, equipped with a landing control centre in addition to payload processing and analysis through well-equipped facilities and expertise.

The creation of this infrastructure will happen hand in hand with the development of a a high-tech ecosystem and site, with capabilities spanning from scientific analysis to business incubation -, all of which are elements of great interest to Portugal and fundamental to the Azores Archipelago.

Central in the support that Portugal is giving to Italy is the creation of a landing site at the Island of Santa Maria, in the Azores, equipped with a landing control centre in addition to payload processing and analysis through well-equipped facilities and expertise.

The creation of the spaceport infrastructure will happen hand to hand with a high-skilled ecosystem and site which spans from scientific analysis to business incubation, all elements of great interest to Portugal and fundamental to Azores Archipelago.

The inaugural and qualification flight of Space Rider is planned for mid-2022. With subsequent launches planned one per year for six years.

Landing Location

The European Space Agency has identified Santa Maria as a possible landing location for the European Space Rider, which will facilitate a new generation of space activities in Europe, while promoting European sovereignty and leadership, as follows:

  • Space Rider combines reusability, transportation, in-orbit operations, and precise descent of a re-entry vehicle able to traverse and land close to inhabited zones safely. 
  • Up to 800 kg of payload can fit in the environmentally controlled cargo bay that offers 1.200 litres of payload volume and provides services including 600 watts of power along with thermal, control, data-handling and telemetry capabilities;
  • Space Rider will allow the transportation of payloads to enable research and development of new products in a microgravity environment. 
  • The inaugural and qualification flight of Space Rider is planned for mid-2022, with subsequent launches planned one per year for six years.

Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Investments

The project requires investments that open possibilities: 

  • The on-site landing control centre for the local monitoring of the landing operations and emergencies;
  • The vehicle processing facilities to enable parking the vehicle; storage of waste fluids; storage of relevant items for re-flight (e.g. parafoil, batteries, etc.); general vehicle inspection; retrieval of payloads; retrieval of recorded flight and payloads data; and vehicle storage before shipment to main refurbishment site;
  • A network enabling communication among the elements above with the rest of the Ground Segment;
  • Upgrade of ground station able to receive telemetry and send telecommands and well as a radar tracking station able to track the vehicle descent and landing and a video tracking station able to track the vehicle descent and landing.

Besides being critical to the project’s success, this infrastructure will contribute to boosting the economy in the Azores.

Business Exploitation of the Space Rider

Microgravity has been fundamental for several new products, including silicon solar cells, memory foam or integrated circuits. Now is time for the pharmaceutical industry to become a leading stakeholder in microgravity research. Around 60% of the pharma executives state that the space economy will have a significative disruption on their sector in the coming decades. In a nutshell, Space provides unique conditions to Big Pharma to enhance their drugs and potentially find new treatments. A long-term goal is the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals products in a low orbit, which could improve medicines. 

As an example, the International Space Station has been the stage of several studies:

  • A Merck & Co. investigation aimed at growing a crystalline suspension of millions of tiny uniform crystals to improve the formulation of the company’s cancer immunotherapy drug, Keytruda®;
  • Eli Lilly & Co. protein crystallisation experiments for structure-based drug design;
  • An Oak Ridge National Laboratory experiment to crystallise the AChE enzyme, aimed at developing an improved antidote for nerve gas and pesticide poisoning;
  • An investigation by The Michael J. Fox Foundation to grow crystals of the LRRK2 protein, a key target in identifying the structure of Parkinson’s disease.