Airborne part of ENVOL consortium, to provide Europe its prime vertical orbital launch system for smallsats

Europe is on a mission to secure independent access to space for small satellites. With the launch of ‘European Newspace Vertical Orbital Launcher’ (ENVOL), a European Union Horizon 2020 project, the EU sets a big step towards providing Europe its first prime commercial, competitive and green launch service. Airborne is pleased to announce to be one of the nine industrial companies participating in ENVOL. Innovative EU space launch companies are searching to develop cheaper, frequent and flexible ways to launch small satellites to space by developing a vertical orbital launch system. This will allow the European small satellite market to be competitive in the global market and attract investments. ENVOL’s main objective is to utilise a true New Space approach to offer low-cost, frequent and flexible access to space to small satellites in the range of 100 to 500 kg by 2024. The project, that had its official kick-off in March 2020, will run for 36 months, with 9 industrial companies from 7 European countries. ENVOL receives funding from the European Commission’s ‘Horizon 2020 research and innovation program’ with an overall budget of 4 M€. The project will be coordinated by Nammo, the Norwegian international aerospace and defence company specialised in ammunition and rocket motors.

Design for automation

The development of critical advanced European technology with affordability in mind is an essential step to achieve the objectives and outputs set by the ENVOL consortium. In order to lower manufacturing costs and ramp up production volume, automation is key. Airborne’s contribution to the project includes the development of a composite upper stage tank structure with automation technology, based on automated laminating with Airborne’ state-of-the-art automated tape laying (ATL) technology. In the aerospace market, automated production of large structures is usually done using advanced fibre placement (AFP), which uses many thin tapes of prepreg. However, Airborne uses a single 150mm wide tape: a wider material that significantly saves manufacturing cost at a much lower CAPEX investment level as compared to AFP. This way, the Airborne automation proposition has a better ROI profile at a lower financial risk.

ENVOL: working in close partnerships 

Airborne will work in close collaboration with CT Engineering, the French engineering company responsible for the design of the upper tank structure of the launcher. In the engineering phase both partners will combine their automation expertise and design knowledge to achieve a design-for-automation, which is required to make affordable structures at the required production rate. Sandor Woldendorp, Business Unit Director at Airborne, involved in the ENVOL project, says: “What makes the ENVOL consortium unique is that each partner adds complementary capabilities, the sum of which will be able to create a competitive European micro-launcher system. Our affordable composites proposition is already drawing a lot of interest from several micro-launcher initiatives around the globe. We look forward to contributing to the success of these launchers and thereby supporting the further growth of the newspace smallsat market”.

Objectives ENVOL project

The ENVOL consortium is joining forces to develop a vertical orbital launch system that will:
  • Act as an accelerator for the growth of the European New Space economy;
  • Be competitive and prevail in a contested and global market;
  • Attract enough investment to reach the tipping point of commercialization;
  • Target achieving the first European orbital launch from Continental Europe;
  • Compete for the EC Horizon Prize on European Low-Cost Space Launch;
  • Be the first orbital launcher worldwide to use green hybrid rocket propulsion.
The main outputs of ENVOL are:
  • A detailed definition of an innovative and industrial low-cost European launch system
  • A total of four ambitious launch vehicle demonstrators on the turbopump, tank and structures, launcher avionics and payload avionics, advancing the maturity of critical launcher technologies to ensure market readiness and competitiveness.
  • A business plan grounded by industrial expertise, along with a development plan and the identification of the organization capable to attract investments and to ensure that the work performed in this project transforms into a commercial activity servicing the small satellite launch market in Europe and beyond.


The ENVOL project is the successor to the EU SMILE project, in which a European industrial consortium developed an affordable Micro launcher. Airborne contributed by developing a structural concept of the load-bearing structures, together with new and innovative automation technology to manufacture the structures. To validate these new technologies a demonstrator was manufactured. For both SMILE as ENVOL, Airborne deploys its expertise Automated Laminating solution, making the layup of tailored thermoset prepreg preform effortless by combining tape laying, cutting, and pick & place in a single robot cell.

More information

Sandor Woldendorp Business Unit Director Aerospace
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