[SatNews] RUAG Space has cause to celebrate: The launch of a Vega rocket on Monday is the 250th time up for a RUAG payload fairing.
Taking off from the European spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana, this Vega rocket has the job of transporting Europe’s Sentinel-2a environmental satellite into space. From its orbit of almost 800 km, the Sentinel-2a satellite will deliver imagery related to safety, security and the environment for Europe’s Earth observation program Copernicus.
Until the rocket carrying Sentiel-2a leaves Earth’s atmosphere, the satellite will be safely encapsulated inside payload fairing number 250. After just four minutes of flight and at an altitude of around 120 km, the fairing will then be jettisoned.
Located at the tip of the rocket, the payload fairing performs two main functions. One, it gives the rocket its aerodynamic form, and two, it protects the rocket’s fragile satellite cargo from forces that may damage it prior to and during launch. These forces include high temperatures, solar radiation, dust, moisture and rain at the launch site, the noise and frictional heat encountered during take-off and flight through Earth’s atmosphere, not to mention the extreme mechanical forces acting on the rocket and its cargo.
RUAG developed its first payload fairing for the Ariane 1 rocket, which was successfully launched on its maiden flight on December 24, 1979. Today, RUAG Space is the world’s leading supplier. Not only are RUAG’s fairings used for Europe’s Ariane and Vega rockets, they are also in demand in the United States, the Atlas V launcher also sports a RUAG payload fairing. Thus far, RUAG fairings have provided protection to some 400 satellites and probes on their journey into space, including several “VIP” passengers such as the bus-sized Envisat environmental satellite, the comet probe Rosetta and the U.S. Mars Rover Curiosity.
“We can look back proudly on 250 successful flights,” says Peter Guggenbach, CEO of RUAG Space. “Swiss-made payload fairings have played a major part in Ariane becoming the most sought-after launcher on the fiercely competitive market for commercial satellite launches.”
To maintain this market leadership even in the face of intense cost pressure and growing competition, RUAG is busy developing new, more economical manufacturing processes. A 5,000-square-metre facility is currently under construction in Emmen in which RUAG will use a state-of-the-art, semi-automated process to produce its fairings. The current Ariane fairing consists of 14 individual shell elements, but a new process will make it possible to manufacture one-piece half shells. This new process will dramatically reduce the effort and expense of manufacturing payload fairings.