Europe finally admits it must build reusable rockets


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The new colonial movement: Europe has finally admitted that its refusal with Ariane 6 to make it reusable was a mistake, and has begun a major engineering research project to design and fly two different types of reusable rockets.

This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, “tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe.”

This new RETALT project’s goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket’s ability to land and fly again is “currently dominating the global market,” the European project states. “We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe.”

What is interesting to me is what appears to be some internal politics within Europe surrounding this effort. France is generally the most dominate member of the European Space Agency. Yet, according to the press release for this announcement, France is not involved in these new reusable rocket projects. Instead, Germany dominates, with companies from Switzerland, Portugal, and Spain participating.

It could be that the failure of Ariane 6 to garner customers, due to its higher costs, has forced these ESA partners to push for their own reusable rocket projects.

Either way, the competition in rocket technology is heating up, more evidence that the 2020s will be the most exciting decade in space since the 1960s.

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One comment

  • Edward

    From the Article: “[European space firms] have indicated that reuse is not a viable option for a continent that only launches five to 10 rockets a year. It would not be sustainable for a European factory to build just one rocket a year, officials have said. Instead, the European strategy has been to try to reduce the costs of its flagship Ariane and Vega launchers.

    The assumption is that each rocket would be able to launch 5 to 10 times, meaning that the construction rate would be one rocket per year.

    In the 1980s, Europe put their launch facility near the equator to take advantage of the then relatively-major launch market of geostationary satellites. It seems that this market is projected to be a relatively-minor market, but one that the more cost-efficient rockets can service despite launching from less advantageous latitudes. Oh, how the market has changed, in a third of a century.

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