Italy and Space Transportation Systems
Although nine space launches were conducted by Italy during 1967-1988, all employed variants of the US-built Scout booster to orbit small scientific satellites prepared by Italy, the UK, or the US. The vehicles are completed in the US prior to shipping to the Italian launch facility for final testing and launch. However, this arrangement has provided Italy with valuable launch operations experience.
The Italian firm BPD Difesa E Spazio is the prime contractor for the Ariane 4 solid propellant strap-on boosters and is a principal developer of the larger Ariane 5 solid-propellant booster. Meanwhile, Alenia Spazio in cooperation with BPD has developed the solid propellant Italian Research Interim Stage (IRIS) for use by a variety of international launch vehicles. Its first mission was the successful transfer of Italy's LAGEOS 2 satellite from a US Space Shuttle to a high altitude operational orbit in October, 1992.
Italy's desire to acquire a more capable and more independent space launch capability ran into trouble in 1992 when competing designs from the Italian Space Agency and the University of Rome became embroiled in a legal dispute. Since 1988 the Italian Space Agency has been examining the possibility of developing a Scout 2 launch vehicle based on the first three stages of the US Scout G-1. Italy would add two large, solid-propellant, strap-on boosters and possibly a new fourth stage. The strap-on boosters would be derived from BPD's Ariane 4 boosters. The University of Rome, which operated the Italian Scout launch facility, supported this program which would increase Italy's LEO payload capacity to 500 kg.
However, in recent years the Italian Space Agency has preferred a more radical design employing a greater degree of national space technology and less dependence on the US. In March, 1992, the experimental Zefiro rocket, which would serve as the new launch vehicle's first stage with two strap-on boosters was flown for the first time - albeit with mixed success. Unwilling to support two, essentially redundant Scout upgrade programs, the Italian Space Agency began withholding development funds from the University of Rome, prompting the latter to file suit. By early 1993 funding for the University of Rome's Scout program had resumed, but the dispute had not been resolved. Finally, in the second half of 1993, the Scout 2 program was terminated after a decision was made to concentrate on an Italian design. Leveraging off the Zefiro development program, the new Vega launch vehicle will have a 700-800 kg LEO capacity. The 3-stage, solid fuel booster will rely on Zefiro motors for the first two stages with IRIS serving as a third stage. However, a reduction in government funding has forced BPD Difesa E Spazio to underwrite the initial development work with an uncertain maiden launch date (References 107-115).
Although the 1992 test launch of the suborbital Zefiro was conducted from the island of Sardinia, all Italian space launches to date have originated from the San Marco launch plat form off the coast of Kenya in Formosa Bay. With a latitude less than three degrees from the equator, San Marco offers nearly optimum payload capacity for satellite missions with low inclination. However, much larger launch vehicles would be required to support the more popular GTO/GEO missions. A second sea based platform near San Marco supports the necessary launch control facilities.
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