Project name:

CapeMidias - Feasibility study for using the Cape Midia military firing range as a micro-launcher and sounding flight operational base

Coordinator: Romanian Association for Space Technology and Industry (ROMSPACE)

Financed by the European Space Agency (ESA) under the Romanian Industry Incentive Scheme

Duration: 2017-2019

The CapeMidias project represents a feasibility study for using the Cape Midia military firing range as a micro-launcher and sounding flight operational base, developed within the Romanian Industry Incentive Scheme (EXPRO+), under ESA Contract No. 4000119833/17/F/JLV. It took place from 2017 to 2019 and represented a multidisciplinary effort which took into account all facets related to the possible development of a civilian launch base on-site. The project also involved interacting with a wide range of stakeholders, especially the military and civilian authorities whose support was invaluable both for the project and for the continuing efforts to implement it. The study concluded that civilian launch activities are not only feasible, but opportune from a commercial and cost perspective.

The CapeMidias project featured several different areas of study - from technical dimensions related to vehicles and payloads, as well as the types of operations that can be accommodated, to infrastructure, costs and finance, legal and administrative frameworks and others. The project was extended with a feasibility study for a new class of boosted dart high altitude rocket design and the testing of the site from a user interaction perspective by performing several launches with an innovative UAV released from a high altitude balloon (with intermediary test launches). This not only validated the high altitude UAV design for use by prospective customers, but also gave the team the opportunity to test the user experience when it came to scheduling, authorizations for flights and operations.

The CapeMidias project involved interacting with a wide variety of stakeholders, who all endorsed the project goals and the idea of having such a site in Romania. Civilian stakeholders included the Romanian Space Agency, the Romanian Air Traffic Services Administration and the Romanian Civil Aeronautical Authority. Military stakeholders included the Military Aviation Authority and, from the Ministry of Defense, the Department of Armaments, the Operations Department and Strategic Planning Department of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Airforce Chief of Staff. On-site visits by ESA staff also helped in fleshing out a vision of the immediate and future use of the Cape Midia site, in accordance with existing infrastructure.

A high altitude UAV flight was performed on June, 2019. The flight was performed using a flying wing UAV and autopilot developed in-house. The UAV was brought to release altitude using a helium filled balloon. The entire flight was tracked from a dedicated ground station and was monitored by ESA specialists.
The UAV had several sensors onboard aimed at measuring atmosphere parameters (pressure, temperature, humidity). The flight was performed up to 27 km altitude and the duration of the flight was ~ 4 hours of flight time. The maximum distance of the UAV from the launch position was ~47 km Nort-East (over the Black Sea).
The recovery was successful with the UAV landing on the dedicated area.

Ultimately, the CapeMidias project highlighted the following results - the availability of the site for civilian launches (so long as it does not interfere with military activities), the support of the authorities, the adequacy of the existing legislative and administrative infrastructure to accommodate operations (with improvements laid out for the long-term), the attractiveness in cost and user friendliness to customers choosing Cape Midia as a launch site, the potential future synergies with the Romanian aerospace industry and its products and services and the market potential of the site for lower cost launch activities in Europe and beyond. The project team planned not only for future legislative and administrative developments, but also for infrastructure investment on-site to work towards orbital launches in the 50 kg payload range to LEO.