Today's space race is tougher than ever, with governments competing against each other and the private sector for a chunk of the lucrative satellite-launch market. In Europe, Italian aerospace company AVIO's new Vega C rocket - the maiden voyage of which is planned for 2019 - aims to be the fastest and most versatile option for a variety of tasks, from heavy comms tech to Nanosats.

Based on the workhorse Vega launcher used by French manufacturer Arianespace since 2012, the Vega C uses 7,000km of carbon fibre to keep its components light and flexible. The "C" in its name stands for "common", as the tech will be deployed by a variety of other launchers, including the European Space Agency's (ESA) Ariane 6.

In development since 2015, the Vega C comes with ramped-up engines, avionic systems and materials. According to Paolo Bellomi, AVIO's head of engineering and product development, these upgrades will give the launcher a 75 per cent improvement in performance, and an increase in payload capacity from 1,500kg to 2,200kg.

The prototype is being built in Colleferro, Italy, at the same plant as the P120C engine. At 11.7 metres long and 3.5 metres in diameter, it's the largest single-body carbon-fibre solid fuel engine in the world. It takes 3,500km of carbon fibre, wound over 33 days, to make the engine's 25cm-thick walls.

The room is kept at a steady 21°C in order to keep the resin-impregnated fibre (known as "prepreg") at the perfect level of malleability while it is wound on to a mandrel - a temporary frame that gives the engine its shape while the composite is curing. The finished launcher will be able to carry 143 tonnes of solid fuel and produce an average of 4,500kN of thrust.

The second stage is the Z40. At 7.6 metres long and 2.3 metres in diameter, the motor was successfully tested on March 8 in Sardinia. The Z40 - as well as the third-stage Z9 - is also made of carbon-fibre filament.

The final stage, the Attitude and Vernier Upper Module (AVUM+), is the only element made of aluminium, and it uses liquid fuel. It contains a central computer which controls the craft and payload, which can comprise either one large satellite or multiple CubeSats. AVIO is also currently developing a prototype dispenser which can fire a payload of CubeSats into individual orbits.

After final checks, Vega C will be sent to the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana - owned by French space agency CNES and the European Space Agency - and then blasted into space.

An internal view of the AVUM+ seen from below. The four silver tanks hold the AVUM Propulsion Module's liquid fuel. These new tanks are larger and carry more propellant than previous iterations.

From left to right, the Z9, Z23 and Z40. In the background is the blue assembly tower where the individual stages are fixed together before shipment.

AVIO engineers inspect the P120C's surface by hand to check the alignment of the carbon-fibre wrapping. More than 50 engineers work at the Colleferro site, just outside Rome, and others are based at AVIO's European research partners.

The Z9 stage, before it is wrapped in carbon fibre. The Z9 is a long-serving engine - used in the first Vega and now the Vega C. The Vega E is due to launch in 2024.

One of Vega's three interstage rings, which link the stages together (here, the second and third). A further ring connects the first stage to the launch pad. During flight, stages are ejected once each engine has burned up its fuel supply.