Airbus Unveils Europe's First Reusable Spacecraft


Airbus Unveils Europe's First Reusable Spacecraft

Airbus, the maker of Europe's Ariane rocket, has unveiled a partially reusable rocket concept, joining the likes of SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Code-named "Adeline", the system has the booster's main engines fly themselves back to Earth after a launch.Getting the engines back to earth is important, as they're the most expensive piece of the spacecraft. Upon returning them to earth, the engines would then be refurbished and used in future missions.

The concept has been under development since 2010 and small scale models have even been flight tested.

The European aerospace giant is looking to defend the market position of Ariane, which has launched nearly half of all the large communications satellites in orbit today.

America's SpaceX and ULA appear to be making more progress on their re-usable rockets, with SpaceX very close to having a fully operational system in production.

The new re-usable portion goes hand in hand with the next-generation Ariane, which, in the present design, is not re-usable.

But the company, feeling pressure from advanced American firms, will try to bolt on the Adeline concept to the new rocket.

"The current design for Ariane 6 is fixed. For its maiden flight in 2020, it will not change," said Francois Auque, head of space systems at Airbus Defence and Space.

"But it is absolutely normal that in parallel we begin to think about what will be the evolution of Ariane 6, because if we don't already pave the way for those evolutions we will not be in a position to implement them somewhere between 2025 and 2030."

Adeline is a winged module that goes on the bottom of the rocket and contains the valuable main engines and the avionics.

The module would detach itself from the upper-stages of the rocket once the propellants in the tanks above it were consumed.

It would then re-enter the Earth's atmosphere, using a protective heat shield on its nose.

As it comes back down to earth it would then use its small winglets, and steer itself towards a runway, helped by small propellers.

Herve Gilibert, a chief technical officer at Airbus Defence and Space, said that Ariane engines could be re-flown 10-20 times.

"We have the conviction that we will generate savings for one given launch on the order of 20-30%, which will make us highly competitive."

It remains to be seen when this product would hit the market, but it appears to be at least ten years behind American firm SpaceX, widely regarded as the world leader in re-usable rocket technology.

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