from the Spaaaaaaaaaace! dept.
[...] chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the US government. [...] Even as Charmeau decries what he calls subsidies for SpaceX from the US government, he admits that Ariane cannot exist without guaranteed contracts purchased by European governments. To make the Ariane 6 vehicle viable, Charmeau said Ariane needs five launches in total for 2021 and eight guaranteed launches for 2022.
[...] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs. "Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'" This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient.
OneSpace Technology Co., a Beijing-based aerospace company, has successfully launched a suborbital rocket. This was the first flight for China's commercial launch sector.
[...] The mission was designated OS-X0 as it was the first test launch of OneSpace's OS-X rocket. During the flight, the launch vehicle reached an altitude of 127,106 feet (38.74 kilometers) and had a top speed of more than 5.7 times the speed of sound. This was confirmed by Shu Chang, the company's founder and CEO.
[...] OneSpace is not the only Chinese private company developing launch vehicles. Last year, Link Space, another Beijing-based startup, presented the design of its New Line 1 reusable rocket. That company is targeting 2020 for the first orbital flight of its booster.
Although the Space Launch System's promoters are focusing on the vehicle's payload capacity to trans-Lunar injection orbit, NASA now claims that the SLS Block 1's payload to LEO may be greater than the 70 metric tons originally estimated. This comes as the SLS project has been negatively compared to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy:
While a comparison between NASA's SLS Block 1 and SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is often made, the gulf between the two has actually widened. As the Block 1 design has matured, the agency has refined the vehicle's capabilities by a significant amount. Though NASA prefers to position SLS as a deep-space rocket, [Spaceflight Insider] sought a clarification of the vehicle's capabilities to a more common destination for rockets: low-Earth-orbit (LEO).
NASA replied: "Now that the SLS design has matured and the program has more data as a result of progress with hardware manufacturing and testing, our current analysis shows the Block 1 configuration of SLS can deliver an estimated mass of 95 metric tons (209,439 pounds) to low-Earth orbit based on a 200 by 200-kilometer orbit with a 28.5 degree inclination, which is a commonly used orbit in the industry for estimating performance."
Previously, the EU-propped Ariane Group's CEO scoffed at the idea of pursuing reusable rockets (the upcoming Ariane 6 is fully expendable) due to Europe having a small market of 5-10 launches per year, as well as the potential effects on rocket-building jobs:
[Chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs.
"Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'"
This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient. For Europe, a difficult decision now looms. It can either keep subsidizing its own launch business in order to maintain an independent capability, or it can give in to Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Charmeau seems to have a clear view of where he thinks the continent should go.
Now, the attitude has changed:
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."
Ariane Group isn't one of the five companies, but then again, €3 million isn't a lot of money.
Even a fully reusable rocket is on the table:
[...] attitude of the new RETALT project appears to have indicated European acceptance of the inevitability of reusable launch vehicles. Engineers will work toward two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that will make use of seven modified Vulcain 2 rocket engines and have the capacity to lift up to 30 tons to low-Earth orbit. The second will be a more revolutionary single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that looks like the Roton rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago.
They should mine Elon Musk's Twitter for clues. Try making the rocket out of stainless steel.