Space Rider

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Space Rider ESA.jpg
Artist's rendering of Space RIDER
NamesSpace Reusable Integrated Demonstrator for Europe Return[1]
Mission typeReusable spaceplane
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftSpace RIDER
Spacecraft typeLifting body spaceplane
ManufacturerCIRA and Thales Alenia Space
Launch massApprox. 3,000 kg[2]
Landing mass1,900 to 2,550 kg
Payload mass800 kg
DimensionsLength: 4.5 m (15 ft)[3]
Power600 W [2]
Start of mission
Launch datePlanned: 2022[4]
Launch siteGuiana Space Centre
End of mission
Landing siteSanta Maria Island, Azores, Portugal
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
BandS band[2]

The Space RIDER (Space Reusable Integrated Demonstrator for Europe Return) is a planned uncrewed orbital spaceplane aiming to provide the European Space Agency (ESA) with affordable and routine access to space.[5] Its expected maiden flight is 2022.[4][6]

Development of Space RIDER is being led by the Italian PRIDE programme in collaboration with ESA, and is the continuation of the Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) experience,[1][7] launched on 11 February 2015. The cost of this phase, not including the launcher, is at least $36.7 million.[8]


The European Space Agency has a program called Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP), which made a call for submissions for a reusable spaceplane.[9] One of the submissions was by the Italian Space Agency, that presented their own Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe (PRIDE program) which went ahead to develop the precursor called Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) and the resulting Space RIDER.[1]

Funding was initially approved by the ESA in 2016, with the project being led by the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA).[8] Thales Alenia Space and Lockheed Martin were tasked with completing the design by 2019. In November 2017, the ESA provided funding to Thales Alenia Space and Avio to build reentry and service modules, respectively.[10] The European Space Agency has designated the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA) and Thales Alenia Space–Italia as co-prime contractors, which in turn manage a consortium of more than 20 European company operating in the space sector.[1] The Italian Space Agency subsequently contracted with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital research flight on SpaceShipTwo for research related to Space RIDER.[11]

In April 2018, ESA released an Announcement of Opportunity to fly small payloads onboard Space Rider's maiden flight.[12] By June 2019, the project was advancing towards the Critical Design Review at the end of 2019.[6] In late November 2019, the project was fully approved by ESA and will be funded mostly by Italy.[13][14]

On completion of the two-month long maiden mission, Space RIDER will return to Earth with the payloads stowed in its cargo bay.[12] This qualification flight of Space RIDER will take place in 2022,[4] followed by several missions to demonstrate a range of capabilities and orbits, before handing over the project to the private sector.[15] By 2025, the ESA plans to privatise the Space RIDER, with Arianespace the likely operator.[16]


The Space RIDER design inherits technology developed for the earlier Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, also within the Programme for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe (PRIDE).[1][8][10] The design team considered the trade-offs of using only a lifting body and also using optional wings or vertical fins.[7] It was then decided in 2017 that the design should optimise the internal volume of the Vega rocket fairing, so its aerodynamic shape will be a simple lifting body, as tested on its predecessor, the IXV.[7] 3-axis control is achieved by the use of rear flaps.[7]

Space RIDER will have the potential to allow experiments in microgravity, such as exposure of materials to outer space and in-orbit validation of technologies, as well as deployment of small satellites.[12]

In 2019, some parafoil guided landing tests will be performed by dropping a full-scale model from helicopters or balloons.[8]

Space RIDER is designed to launch atop the Vega-C rocket,[16][2] and its maiden flight will be from the French Guiana in 2022, to land on a runway on Santa Maria Island, in the Azores.[16] The spacecraft is being designed to conduct missions up to two months long in low Earth orbit with up to 800 kg of cargo.[2][17] The re-entry module itself is a testbed for entry technologies as the IXV precursor was, so future improvements are envisioned,[18] including point-to-point flights, even "space tourism".[8]

Activities for Phase-B2/C, covering the Preliminary Design Review started on 25 January 2018,[19] and the Critical Design Review begin in late 2019.[6]

Service module[edit]

Space Rider's service module is a modified version of the Vega-C AVUM+, which will extend the time that can be spent in orbit by at least two months before Space RIDER returns with its cargo to Earth to land on the ground.[20] The service module will provide power, attitude control and deorbit capability, and it will separate from the spacecraft just before atmospheric reentry.[21]


Space RIDER will use a controllable parafoil for landing, as used by the NASA X-38 in 1999.

Upon atmospheric entry, the lifting body shape will decelerate the spacecraft to subsonic speed (below Mach 0.8), when one or two drogue parachute will be deployed at about 15-12 km altitude to slow it further (to Mach 0.18 - 0.22)[17] Then, a controllable gliding parachute called parafoil will be deployed to begin the controlled descent phase for a nearly horizontal touchdown (≈35 m/s) using no wheels.[17] The landing concept is similar to the NASA X-38 landing system.[17]

For orbits with inclination > 37°, landings will be performed at the Portuguese Santa Maria Island in the Azores archipelago. For lower inclination missions, French Guiana and Dutch Curaçao are being considered.[2]

Preliminary specifications[edit]

Space Rider Parameter/units
Crew None (robotic only)
Length ≥ 4.4 m (14 ft)[8]
Payload volume ≥ 1.2 m3 (1,200 liters)
Mass Max. 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) [2]
Payload mass 800 kg (1,760 lb)[2][17]
Flight time At least 2 months[20]
Landing mass 1,900 to 2,550 kg [17]
Landing accuracy 150 m [17]
Landing speeds Horizontal: 35 m/s; vertical: 3 m/s [17]
Parachute deployment shock < 4 g [17]
Power 600 W [2]
Reusability 6 flights [2]
Turnaround time < 6 months [2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Space RIDER PRIDE. Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA). Accessed: 15 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "SPACE RIDER" (PDF). ESA. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  3. ^ ESA promotes Vega's evolution for independent European access to space. Chris Bergin, NASA Spaceflight. 4 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b c ESA's reusable Space Rider capsule would carry equipment to orbit and back. Michael Irving, New Atlas. 6 June 2019.
  5. ^ "Space Rider". ESA. ESA. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Space Rider: Europe's reusable space transport system. Space Daily. 6 June 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Aeroshape Trade-Off and Aerodynamic Analysis of the Space-Rider Vehicle. (PDF) M. Marini, M. Di Clemente, G. Guidotti, G. Rufolo, O. Lambert, N. Joiner, D. Charbonnier, M.V. Pricop, M.G. Cojocaru, D. Pepelea, C. Stoica, and A. Denaro. 7th European Conference for Aeronautics and Space Sciences (EUCASS). 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Coppinger, Rob (11 April 2017). "The reusable spaceplane launched inside a rocket". BBC. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  9. ^ New milestone in IXV development. ESA. 15 September 2010.
  10. ^ a b Henry, Caleb (30 November 2017). "ESA pours $107 million into Vega E and a reusable spaceplane". Space News. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  11. ^ Foust, Jeff (19 December 2017). "Virgin Galactic signs SpaceShipTwo research flight deal with Italian space agency". Space News. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  12. ^ a b c Messier, Doug. "Announcement of Opportunity to Fly Payloads on ESA's Space Rider". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  13. ^ Italy satisfied with outcome of ESA ministerial. Jeff Foust, Space News. 29 November 2019.
  14. ^ Europe gives space programs a big boost. Daniel Clery, Science. 28 November 2019.
  15. ^ ESA targets 2021 for Space Rider demo flight. Tereza Pultarova, Space News. 13 November 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Coppinger, Rob (22 June 2017). "ESA aims to privatize Space Rider unmanned spaceplane by 2025". Space News. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i Conceptual Design of the Descent Subsystem for the Safe Atmospheric Re-Entry Flight of Space Rider. (PDF) doi:10.13009/EUCASS2017-624 Alessandro Balossino, Luciano Battocchio, Matteo Giacci, Giuseppe Guidotti, Giuseppe Rufolo, Angelo Denaro, Nicola Paletta. Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali. 2017.
  18. ^ Mission and GNC Challenges from IXV to Space Rider. Rodrigo Haya Ramos, Davide Bonetti. Research Gate. Conference: Fourteenth International Planetary Probe Workshop, At The Hague, The Netherlands. June 2017.
  19. ^ Space Rider. Gunter's Space Page.
  20. ^ a b Focus on Vega developments. European Space Agency. Published by PhysOrg on 26 November 2018.
  21. ^ Space Rider: Europe's reusable space transport system. 5 June 2019. ESA.