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The competition heats up: Airbus unveiled today its prototype design to recover and reuse the engines and avionics of its Ariane rockets.
Herve Gilibert, technical director for Airbus’ Space Systems division, said the Adeline propulsion unit — engine and avionics — is where lies most of the value of the first stage. The Airbus team concluded that SpaceX’s design of returning the full stage to Earth could be simplified by separating the propulsion bay from the rest of the stage, protecting the motor on reentry and, using the winglets and turbofans, return horizontally to a conventional air strip. “We are using an aerodynamic shield so that the motor is not subjected to such high stress on reentry,” Gilibert said. “We need very little fuel for the turbofans and the performance penalty we pay for the Ariane 6 launcher is far less than the 30 percent or more performance penalty that SpaceX pays for the reusable Falcon 9 first stage.
Gee, for decades Arianespace and Boeing and Lockheed Martin and everyone else in the launch industry insisted it made no economic sense to try to recover and reuse the first stage of their rockets. Then SpaceX comes along and makes an effort to do so, without as yet even coming close, and suddenly everyone agrees it is economically essential to do it as well.
Isn’t competition wonderful?