Argentinian space plans – VEx-5A launch already in July !

There is another South American country after Brazil, which has its independent space program. Is there any chance that we see in future rockets launched from other places in South America than French Guiana in near future?

Maybe this fact is not well known, but Argentina has quite long history of own space program. It started over thirty years before 1991, when officially Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE-National Space Activities Commission), civilian space agency, was established. Of course it should not be big surprise, but in its beginning, Argentinian space program was strongly related with military. This situation was result both of political situation in the Country and general tendency to consider space technologies as mainly useful for military purposes in spite of course of pure science oriented exploration. It is worth to mention that in fact Argentina was first country in South America, which seriously considered space as possible for exploration in future. Argentinian engineer Melchor Teófilo Tabanera established in 1948 Asociación Argentina Interplanetaria (Interplanetary Association of Argentina) first space organization in South America. After five years of active promoting idea of space research and exploration, Argentina became one of the founders of International Astronautical Federation. Asociación Argentina Interplanetaria became organization which started to connect specialists, engineers and enthusiasts of idea of space exploration in Argentina, including number of German specialists with experience in aviation, who came to Argentina from Europe after II World War. It is worth to mention that Argentinian lawyer, Aldo Cocca, was one of the pioneers in space law and person who had strong influence for creating vision of peace space exploration, which was and still is, fundamental for international space law.

Further steps in the way of development of Argentinian space program were strongly connected with establishing in 1960 Comision Nacional de Investigaciones Espaciales (CNIE), predecessor of CONAE, with  Melchor Teófilo Tabanera as a chief. CNIE started cooperating with Instituto de Investigaciones Aeronauticas y Espaciales (IIAE) which was part of the Argentinian Air Force; result of this cooperation were sounding experimental rockets and missiles like Gamma Centauro (reached altitude of 45 km in the early sixties), Orion-1 (80 km with 10 kg payload in 1965/1966) or Rigel (30 kg of payload delivered to 310 km altitude in 1969). Key moment was sending by Argentina, as first country in South America, object to space on atop of independently developed rocket. It was on May 19, 1966, when Orion-2 rocket launched from CELPA launch site (Mar Chiquita in Cordoba province) reached altitude of 100 km.

Next test flights were still performed with Argentinian sounding rockets along with French Centaure family rockets or Castor, ARCAS and Judy-Dart American rockets. In parallel with civilian trials, Argentina decided to start strictly military space program with ultimate objective of creating Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile called Condor. Program started in 1970 in the cooperation with German MBB Company. Due the tensions after Falkland War and international embargo, program finally was cancelled in 1993 after strong pressure of the USA. Since then cooperation with USA in research and space exploration was intensified.

Argentina never left idea to create own launch vehicle. In 2007 after signing resolution 396 by Ministry of Economy of Argentina project of Tronador rocket started with budget slightly under $1 million. Project was developed by CONAE and Veng aerospace company, which was established already in 1998 as public-private partnership. Tronador I and Tronador II rockets were started to be developed mainly to gather necessary experience for ultimate goal: creating liquid fueled rocket expandable system in future. This rocket, called ISCUL (Inyector Satelital de Cargas Utiles Ligeras-Light Payloads Satellite Launcher) would be able to deliver light satellites to Low Earth Orbit establishing independent access to space for Argentine.

First Tronador rocket marked as Tronador I was launched from Puerto Belgrano Naval Base on June 6, 2007. It was unguided light rocket with weight at 60 kg and length at 3.4 m. It was single stage rocket with engine providing 4.9 kN of thrust and liquid fueled and able to lift with 4 kg of payload. Tronador IB was improved version with engine offering 14.7 kN and also fueled with Anilin/Nitric Acid, but with same dimensions and payload capacity. Rocket during flight successfully gathered telemetry data and was general test of ground service team. On August 5, 2008, it was able to deliver to altitude of 13 km 4 kg of payload during launch performed from Puerto Belgrano. Next rocket was T4000 which was basically hypergolic third stage of planned for 2019 Tronador II rocket. It was designed to be heavier and larger than previous rockets; unfortunately during its maiden flight rocket failed to liftoff. It was also liquid fueled, but engine offered 40 kN of thrust. Unfortunately launch performed in 2011 was failure. Next generation of Tronador, Tronador II, is still under development and according to most recent technical specification, announced during 52nd Committee on Peaceful Uses of Ultra-Terrestrial Space meeting the Punta Indio in 2015, will be three stages rocket with length of 28 m and diameter at 2.5 m. It will weight 67 t and will be able to deliver 250 kg to LEO with maximal altitude of 600 km. First stage will be two boosters providing thrust at 896 kN. Second stage will be identical as boosters and will provide 298 kN of thrust. Last stage will be equipped with engine able to provide 39 kN. Rocket will be liquid fueled with LOX/RP1 in first two stages with third stage fueled with MMH/N2o4. First flight is planned for 2019 from Puerto Belgrano Naval Base.

CONAE was also involved in cooperation with Brazilian space agency-Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB). Joint project was based on built by AEB solid fueled booster with payload manufactured by CONAE. VS-30 rocket, launched from Barreira do Inferno Launch Center, carried in December 2007 several experimental devices by CONAE like Inertial Measurements Unit, gyroscope, on-board computer, attitude control system based on cold gas thrusters beyond Karman line to altitude 120 km - 160 km. Rocket weight was 1500 kg, length was 3.3 m and payload mass was 242.1 kg. After successful flight payload was recovered from sea after landing on parachutes.

In spite of civilian space program, Argentinian Ministry of Defense had also own program of developing experimental rocket. Developed independently from CONAE by Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas para la Defensa (Institute of Scientific and Technical Research for Defense-CITEDEF) was called GRADICOM. First rocket developed under this program was GRADICOM PCX launched in December 2009 from Serrezuela in Cordoba province. It was single stage solid fueled sounding rocket. Experience from this launch helped in developing more advanced rocket - GRADICOM II. It was two stages solid fueled (HTPB) rocket with weight at 933 kg and length of 7.686 m. Both rockets were not guided and were rather technology demonstrators and experimental vehicles for testing solid fueled rocket as potential base for creating artillery missile or sounding rocket. GRADICOM II was launched in December 2011 and was able to reach altitude of 100 km.

CONAE planned for July (or August) 2016 launch of their most recent technology demonstrator. Launch is planned as continuation of most recent research and development program-VEx. VEx should be considered as series of prototypes of stages for future Tronador II and technology demonstrators; First test flight of  VEx, marked as VEx-1A, was performed in February 2014 without final success-rocket failed shortly after launch. Test flight assumed reaching altitude of 2 km with vehicle weighting 2800 kg with length of 14.5 m and equipped with 38 kN engine. Next test flight with VEx-1B was planned for 15 August 2014 and was successful. Rocket reached altitude of 2200 m after 27 seconds of flight; it was recovered after landing on parachutes. During flight various systems of the rocket were tested: propulsion and fueling system, control system and navigation systems. Flight planned for July 2016 will be performed by VEx-5A rocket. It will be rocket equipped with stronger T10 engine with thrust at 298 kN. Launch site for VEx rockets is placed in Las Pipinas, Punta de Indio in Buenos Aires Province; all VEx rockets are manufactured by Veng Company in cooperation with CONAE. After launch in July 2016 next VEx launch (VEx-5B) is planned for 2017. It will be testing of upgraded with pressure fed T10 engine and other, additional experimental engine planned as propulsion for second stage of Tronador II. Both units will be fueled with MMH/N2O4/HNO3.



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