Zefiro (rocket stage)


Tuyère de l'étage Z23 du lanceur Vega DSC 0024.JPG
Nozzle of the Zefiro 23, Paris Air Show 2015
Country of originItaly
Used on Vega, Vega-C/E (Future)
Launch history
Total launches15
(stage only)
First flight13 February 2012
Last flight11 July 2019
3 stage – Zefiro 9A[1]
Length3.9 metres (13 ft)
Diameter1.9 metres (6 ft 3 in)
Empty mass906 kilograms (1,997 lb)
Gross mass11.4 tonnes (11.2 long tons; 12.6 short tons)
Propellant mass10.5 tonnes (10.3 long tons; 11.6 short tons)
Thrust314 kilonewtons (71,000 lbf)
Specific impulse295.2 seconds
Burn time117.1 seconds
PropellantAluminium-HTPB 1912
2 stage – Zefiro 23[2]
Length7.5 metres (25 ft)
Diameter1.9 metres (6 ft 3 in)
Empty mass1,935 kilograms (4,266 lb)
Gross mass25.9 tonnes (25.5 long tons; 28.5 short tons)
Propellant mass24 tonnes (24 long tons; 26 short tons)
Thrust1,122 kilonewtons (252,000 lbf)
Specific impulse287.5 seconds
Burn time103 seconds
PropellantAluminium-HTPB 1912
2 stage – Zefiro 40[3]
Length7.6 metres (25 ft)
Diameter2.3 metres (7 ft 7 in)
Empty mass3,006 kilograms (6,627 lb)
Gross mass29.2 tonnes (28.7 long tons; 32.2 short tons)
Propellant mass36.2 tonnes (35.6 long tons; 39.9 short tons)
Thrust1,304 kilonewtons (293,000 lbf)
Specific impulse293.5 seconds
Burn time92.9 seconds
PropellantAluminium-HTPB 1912

Zefiro is a family of solid-fuel rocket motors developed by Avio and used on the European Space Agency Vega rocket. The name Zefiro derives from the acronym ZEro FIrst stage ROcket,[4] conceived when this motor was intended to be used as first and second stages of San Marco program of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). After its intended use as booster was shelved the acronym was dropped and only the reference to the Greek god of the west wind Zephyrus remained.

As of April 2019 two models, Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9A, are in use with Vega and another model, Zefiro 40, is in development for Vega-C.


The first engine completed was Zefiro 9, the third stage engine. The first test firing was carried out on 20 December 2005, at the Salto di Quirra Inter-force Test Range, on the Mediterranean coast in southeast Sardinia. The test was a complete success.[5] After a critical design review based on the completed first test firings,[6] the second test-firing of the Zefiro 9 took place at Salto di Quirra on 28 March 2007. After 35 seconds, there was a sudden drop in the motor's internal pressure, leading to an increased combustion time.[7] On 23 October 2008, an enhanced version of the Zefiro 9 with a modified nozzle design and increased propellant load, the Zefiro 9A, was successfully tested.[8] On 28 April 2009, the final qualification test firing of Zefiro 9A took place at the Salto di Quirra Interforce Test Range in Sardinia, Italy.[9]

The Zefiro 23 was test fired twice on 26 June 2006 and 27 March 2008 at Salto di Quirra. Both tests were successful and the motor qualified for use on Vega.[10][11]

Zefiro 40 first test occurred on 8 March 2018 also at Salto di Quirra with a successful 92 seconds burn.[12]

A failure of the Zefiro 23 occurred shortly after the planned ignition during the FalconEye 1 mission on 11 July 2019 which resulted in the loss of the satellite and a mission failure. The Zefiro 23 was supposed to fire for 77 seconds. Telemetry data showed the Vega rocket achieved a top speed of approximately 2.17 km/s, 233 seconds into flight. The rocket then deviated below its planned ascent trajectory before falling into the Atlantic Ocean north of the Centre Spatial Guyanais.[13]


The propellant of all Zefiro models is HTPB 1912 with a nominal composition of 19% of aluminium powder, 69% of ammonium perchlorate with 12% of hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene binder.[14]

Zefiro 23 and Zefiro 9A, where the number represent the intended propellant weight at design phase, are used respectively as second and third stage of Vega rockets. Both motors have a 1.9 m diameter carbon epoxy filament wound case, a low density EPDM insulation, a flexible rocket nozzle joint and an electromechanical thrust vector control system.

Zefiro 23 is 7.5 meters tall and weighs 26 tonnes, of which 24 tonnes consist of solid propellant. It has a nominal burn time of 103 seconds with combustion chamber pressure of 95 bars.[2][15]

Zefiro 9A, designed and built exclusively with Avio technologies, is 3.5 metres tall, weighs 11.5 tonnes and burns 9 tonnes of solid propellant. It has a nominal burn time of 77 seconds with combustion chamber pressure of 95 bars, consumed in slightly more than 110 seconds.[1][15]

Zefiro 40, still in development phase as of 2020, is intended to be used as second stage of both Vega-C and Vega-E. In comparison to its predecessor Zefiro 23, the motor has an increased exercise pression, better structural load margins for both the casing and the propellant grains and an improved flexible rocket nozzle joint.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b "VEGA: 3° stage - Zefiro 9". Avio. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b "VEGA: 2° stage - Zefiro 23". Avio. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b "VEGA: 2° stage - Z40 Motor". Avio. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  4. ^ "Italian "Demetra" conference: aerospace sector, satellite monitoring". Avio. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  5. ^ "ESA: Successful first test for Vega's Zefiro 9 engine". ESA. 21 December 2005. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  6. ^ "ESA: Vega Critical Design Review begins". ESA. 22 December 2006. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  7. ^ "ESA: Anomalous behaviour affects firing test of Vega's Zefiro 9 motor". ESA. 29 March 2007. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  8. ^ "Successful first test for Vega's Zefiro 9-A solid-fuel rocket motor". ESA. 24 October 2008.
  9. ^ "Successful second test for Vega's Zefiro 9A solid-fuel rocket motor". ESA. 30 April 2009.
  10. ^ "ESA: Vega's second stage motor roars to life". ESA. 26 June 2006. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  11. ^ "Successful qualification firing test for Zefiro 23". ESA. 31 March 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  12. ^ "Zefiro 40(Z40) engine bench test". Avio. 8 March 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  13. ^ "UAE military satellite lost in Vega launch failure". spaceflightnow. 11 July 2019.
  14. ^ "Green solid propellants for launchers" (PDF). Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Die Vega" (in German). Retrieved 14 April 2019.