Europe in Space

By Andrew Parsonson

Europe prepares for a reusable future



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Europe in Space
Issue 11. Subscribers: 297.
I’d like to give a very warm welcome to my 10 new subscribers. Enjoy your first issue!

Europe prepares for a reusable future
As ArianeGroup gears up for the first hot fire test of a Prometheus engine, I thought it would be interesting to examine Europe’s efforts toward developing a reusable launch vehicle. It will be split over two weeks, with this first week covering institutional efforts from the European Space Agency and a few national space agencies. Next week, I will cover the various efforts being pursued by commercial outfits like Orbex and Pangea Aerospace.
Prometheus is a reusable methalox rocket engine that is being developed under a European Space Agency contract. The project was initiated by CNES in 2015 and adopted by ESA in 2017 with the goal of developing a universal propulsive solution for future European launchers. 
The project aims to develop an engine capable of producing 980 kN of thrust at a cost of around €1 million per unit, a 10th of the current Ariane 5 main engine. A total of 70% of the mass of the engine, including the combustion chamber, will be 3D printed to hit this ambitious cost goal.
Potential applications for the engine include an upgraded Ariane 6, Ariane Next (a proposed successor to Ariane 6), and the Maiaspace microlauncher. However, before it is utilised aboard operational vehicles, it will power the reusable Themis demonstrator.
Callisto is a reusable demonstrator project being undertaken by CNES, DLR, and JAXA. The project expands on the lessons learned from Frog, a three-metre tall demonstrator that was utilised to test navigation and thrust control algorithms. Frog completed its first flight powered by a turbojet in May 2019.
Standing at 15 metres tall with a diameter of one metre, Callisto is powered by a 40 kN class LOX/LH2 engine. The primary aim of the vehicle is to test the full “toss-back manoeuvre” in Kourou on a vehicle that is about half the size of Themis. A secondary objective of the program is to study the refurbishment process required between flights. The lessons learned here will feed directly into the development of Themis.
The first flight of Callisto is scheduled for late 2022 from the Guiana Space Centre. The flight will see the vehicle climb to an altitude of 30 to 40 km before returning to Earth. Following the initial flight, an additional 10 flights are expected to be conducted in 2023.
Themis is, according to the skunk works division of ArianeGroup, ArianeWorks, both a demonstrator and a prototype of a low coast reusable first stage for future Ariane vehicles. The vehicle’s design utilises technologies and lessons learned from the Callisto programme and will be powered by Prometheus methalox engines.
A basic prototype of the Themis vehicle is currently being tested at an ArianeGroup facility in Vernon, France. This phase of the vehicle’s development will conclude with the first successful hot fire tests of the Prometheus engine. The first hop tests of a flight-ready prototype are expected to begin in 2023 from the Esrange Space Center in Sweden. 
Themis is intended to be a building block for a number of future European launchers, including Ariane Next and possibly even an Avio Vega variant. However, Avio has indicated that they intend to develop their own methalox first stage engine based on the architecture of the company’s M10 engine that will power the upper stage of the Vega E launch vehicle. It could also be utilised to replace the Ariane 6 solid fuel boosters with a liquid fuel alternative, a move that may be necessitated if ESA adopts a European crew launch initiative at the ministerial-level council meeting later this year.
Ariane Next
Ariane Next, as the name suggests, is aimed at evaluating launch systems that could replace the current Ariane 6 architecture. The primary goal of the initiative is to reduce launch costs by 50% from Ariane 6. The vehicle’s design will implement lessons learned from Callisto, Themis, and Icarus, a lightweight upper stage upgrade planned for Ariane 6.
Ariane Next will make use of an upgraded variant of the Prometheus engine for both the first and second stages to optimise development and production costs. Although there has not yet been a decision made on the exact format of the vehicle, it will likely utilise a multiple engine cluster for the first stage and offer mission flexibility with optional boosters.
The aim is to launch the maiden flight of the new vehicle by 2030.
Proposed reusable upper stage
Like SpaceX and Rocket Lab, the European Space Agency sees fully reusable launch vehicles as a key element of future vehicles. As a result, the agency plan to propose an initiative to develop a reusable upper stage at its ministerial-level council meeting later this year. The initiative will examine the reusability of an upper stage in two distinct roles: as a launch vehicle asset that would be recovered and then reused, and as an in-orbit transfer/maintenance vehicle that could be utilised for a variety of missions.
Ariane Ultimate
Beyond Ariane Next and into the 2040s, Ariane Ultimate is a radical single-stage-to-orbit design that utilises next-gen material science like carbon nanotubes and graphene, and propulsion systems that utilise new high-energy-dense propellants capable of drastically reducing the mass and cost of the launcher. Rather than an actual launch vehicle, Ariane Ultimate is more of a technology roadmap that is exploring the very edges of what could be possible in the future.
News of the week
Winner winner chicken dinner - HyPrSpace and Sirius Space Services won a call from the French Government to develop mini and micro-launchers as part of the country’s France 2030 project. The initiative was announced by Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire on December 6, 2021. As part of the announcement, Le Maire also revealed the launch of the ArianeGroup-managed Maiaspace startup that has been tasked with developing a reusable mini-launcher. 
We’re going to the Moon! - Thales Alenia Space completed activities related to the final integration of critical systems of the Orion European Service Module 4 (ESM 4) at its facility in Turin. The module was then shipped to the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Bremen, Germany to complete the integration and carry out final tests. ESM 4 will be utilised for the first NASA Orion mission to the lunar Gateway Space Station, carrying with it four astronauts and the I-Hab habitat module, which is being developed by ESA and JAXA. 
Do I really need a smart toaster? - Swiss Internet of Things (IoT) network operator Astrocast has agreed to acquire IoT-as-a-Service provider Hiber in exchange for a 16.5% stake in the company. The deal is contingent on Astrocast completing a planned second IPO and Hiber investing €10.45 million in the company.
It’s for the environment, man - UK-based satellite manufacturer Open Cosmos signed a €5.2m contract with the European Space Agency to continue work on the NanoMagSat constellation as a part of a European consortium working on the mission. The NanoMagSat mission aims to monitor the Earth’s magnetic field and the ionospheric environment with a small constellation of satellites.
Honey, I shrunk the satellite - Seven IoT picosatellites developed and operated by Spanish IoT connectivity provider FOSSA Systems were launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission. The launch brings the total number of FOSSA satellites in orbit to 13, the largest low-Earth orbit satellite constellation of any Spanish satellite provider. The company is working towards building out its 80-satellite constellation.
Are we there yet? - The primary and six secondary payloads that will be carried to orbit aboard the first Avio Vega C flight have been shipped to the launch site in French Guiana for integration with the vehicle. The fourth and final stage of the first Vega C was successfully stacked on 21 May in preparation for the payload adapter, payloads, and fairing. The European Space Agency is currently targeting the first week of July for the launch.
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Andrew Parsonson

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