The European Space Agency (ESA) today allocated $107 million to develop both a new larger version of its Vega rocket as well as an orbital version of the spaceplane engineering test vehicle flown in 2015.
The Vega-E will be larger and will give them another rocket capable of competing for launch business, but the space plane project is more interesting.
ESA awarded 36.7 million split between Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy for Space Rider, an unmanned spaceplane capable of lifting 800 kilograms to LEO for missions up to two months. A single Space Rider should be capable of six missions with refurbishing, according to Thales Alenia Space.
Space Rider leverages technology from ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), which performed a suborbital mission in February 2015, landing in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike its predecessor, Space Rider is designed for ground landings. ESA tasked Thales Alenia Space with building Space Rider’s reentry module based on the IXV.
It seems Europe wants its own version of X-37B and Dream Chaser.