ArianeGroup chosen by Europe to develop reusable rockets

The new colonial movement: The European Commission, which makes the major decisions for the European Space Agency, has chosen the European commercial company ArianeGroup to run two programs designed to produce that continent’s first reusable rocket.

From the press release [pdf]:

The SALTO project will facilitate the first flight tests of the Themis reusable stage demonstrator in Kiruna, Sweden. The ENLIGHTEN project will speed up the development and introduction of reusable engine technologies.

The main goal of SALTO will be to develop the kind of vertical landing technology that SpaceX now does routinely. ENLIGHTEN in turn will develop rocket engines using either methane or hydrogen as the fuel. The total budget allocated for both is just under 50 million euros, which seems quite small. The press release also made no mention of a schedule for accomplishing these tasks.

ESA funds ArianeGroup prototype vertical landing hopper

The European Space Agency (ESA) has now committed 33 million euros for ArianeGroup to develop a prototype vertical landing hopper dubbed Themis that would begin testing first stage landings by ’23.

ArianeGroup and its collaborators in Belgium, Switzerland, France and Sweden offer critical technical knowhow gained through the development of Europe’s next-generation engine – Prometheus – which will power Themis.

ESA’s Prometheus is a highly versatile engine capable of providing 1000 kN of variable thrust and is reignitable which makes it suitable for core, booster and upper stage application. An onboard computer handles engine management and monitoring in real time – a crucial feature for reusability.

ArianeGroup is the private consortium led by Airbus and Safran that is building Ariane 6. This deal suggests that ESA amd ArianeGroup has finally recognized that Ariane 6, built without reusability, is a lemon and is not attracting customers. This new contract starts the process of developing a reusable first stage.

They still might be too late. They will only begin testing the Themis prototype in ’23, with no clarity on when a full scale version will follow. Meanwhile, it is very likely that SpaceX’s fully reusable Starship/Super Heavy will be flying orbital missions by then, and likely charging far less than they presently do for their Falcon 9.