Vega Backers Find Orion Service Module Work Too Boring

Having spent 9 years and $930 million developing a new solid-fuel rocket to launch small satellites into Earth orbit, France and Italy have decided that working on a new spacecraft that will send humans to explore the moon, Mars and various asteroids is both beneath them and simply too boring.

Two of Europe’s biggest International Space Station contributors have rejected a NASA proposal that would see the European Space Agency (ESA) pay its share of ISS operating costs by building a propulsion module for NASA’s Orion crew transport capsule, saying the proposal is technologically lackluster and unlikely to generate public enthusiasm.


This will, presumably, force NASA to dig even deeper into its pockets to complete work on the mega-expensive Orion, which is not to set to fly with astronauts for another 9 years. Possibly with a negative impact on funding for commercial crew.

The negative view of the service module work is interesting in light of what the two nations have been spending development money on. Italy and France collectively finance about 73 percent of Europe’s new Vega rocket, which launches small payloads into LEO. Total Euopean commitment to Vega, including five qualifying flights, will total $1.45 billion.

And that’s before they replace the fourth stage. Germany was so thrilled the success of Vega’s inaugural launch this week that it wants in on this exciting project. It has proposed building a replacement for the Ukrainian-built upper stage. The cost of that is unknown at present.

Well, whatever floats your boat.

To be fair, Italy and France are looking at some interesting technology development:

Specifically, d’Escatha says France would like to develop a vehicle capable of grappling with and collecting orbital debris that could also have sample-return applications for exploration missions.

The Swiss are looking at doing exactly that with small satellites. It’s an interesting project, technologically challenging, and much needed. So, I could see how the French would be doing something similar and find that interesting.

But still, Orion is going to be going beyond Earth orbit with people, and Italy and France could certainly barter participation of their own astronauts in those missions. And those would be both technologically challenging and of generate much public enthusiasm.