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Europe Accepts the Inevitability of Reusable Rockets

Accepted submission by takyon at 2019-06-26 21:51:41 from the reverse-thrust dept.

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:

Europe says SpaceX "dominating" launch, vows to develop Falcon 9-like rocket []

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:

[The] 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 [].

Previously: Full Thrust on Europe's New Ariane 6 Rocket []
SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News []

Original Submission