SENER Aeroespacial develops the NAVIGA navigation unit for the VEGA-C launcher

02/24/2021 (International)
SENER Aeroespacial develops the NAVIGA navigation unit for the VEGA-C launcher

  • SENER Aerospace is in the process of qualifying and manufacturing VNE / NAVIGA: a low-cost modular space navigation unit for space transport, the first application of which will be the European VEGA-C launcher.
  • After the delivery of the flight model, in 2023, SENER Aerospace expects to close a ten-year contract with AVIO for the serial manufacture of this flight unit for successive VEGA-C missions.
  • SENER Aeroespacial has designed a novel and unique product in Europe due to its characteristics, which can function as a hybrid unit, an inertial-only unit or a GNSS receiver, and will be capable of serving both launchers and satellites.

SENER Aeroespacial, a company of the SENER engineering and technology group, has signed the contract with AVIO for the C / D phases of the VEGA-C launcher navigation unit, VNE (Vega-C Navigation Equipment), after successfully completing the phases A (feasibility study) and B (preliminary design). Phase C involves the development of the detailed design and Phase D is the qualification and delivery phase of the first flight model.

SENER Aeroespacial is the design authority for this unit, which delivers to the customer as a comprehensive product and whose main advantage is a reduction in production cost by incorporating processes and materials from the world of defense to achieve the mass production of a critical component for a Space mission. Furthermore, this contract opens the door to serial production of navigation units for successive VEGA-C launches and other space missions.

The navigation unit is what provides the position of the rocket, a compass in six dimensions (position and attitude of the launcher), to the Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) system, developed by AVIO and is necessary to drive the rocket. NAVIGA is therefore a critical component for the success of the mission.

NAVIGA combines an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver, and hybridizes both measurements to achieve a high-performance product – SW class A, the most critical within the space industry – but , at the same time, low cost, compared to inertial navigation units available on the market.

In the words of those responsible for the project at SENER Aeroespacial, “the development of this navigation unit places us at the head of an incipient market in Europe, that of medium-cost space equipment, with good performance and high reliability. We have achieved this product by combining our 55 years of experience in the traditional space market, with more than 270 equipment and systems embarked on space missions without any failure, and our experience in mass manufacturing of products for other markets such as defense. and that of the commercial satellite telecommunications market, which imply cheaper processes and components to adapt to the demands of a more competitive market ”.

NAVIGA, a versatile and low cost navigation unit

NAVIGA is a navigation unit that combines two key elements for future space transportation systems: low cost and versatility.

The design of a unit capable of achieving the same performance as other similar space navigation units at a reduced cost has been possible thanks to the combination of the knowledge and experience in space navigation solutions together with the technical knowledge in the development of products. precision aviation and defense equipment for complex environments.

The three implementation aspects applied to the project to reduce the recurring cost of the unit, while maintaining the required performance, are: the use of sensor hybridization techniques to provide a robust navigation solution; the inclusion of radiation-tolerant parts from the automotive market (new to space); and the adoption of mass manufacturing processes for the production of the unit.

The second key element, versatility, is achieved thanks to the modular and flexible design that allows a complete and qualified unit that can be adapted, with minor modifications and tests, to other environments, for example, in short-term space missions. The advantages of this versatility are significant in today’s market, which is increasingly demanding new products in less time and with lower development costs.

The two key elements are complemented by a third: NAVIGA is a fully European unit that guarantees non-dependence on the ITAR restriction.

To develop this innovative product, SENER Aeroespacial has invested its own funds and will equip itself with new specific equipment within the facilities, which will make it possible to qualify components that are used in the defense and automotive markets for application in space projects, with much higher requirements.

The project is the result of the collaboration of the Italian companies AVIO and CIVITANAVI Systems and the Spanish company Elecnor DEIMOS. The VNE / NAVIGA project is funded under the Vega-C program of the European Space Agency (ESA).