Europe Eyes Reusable Rockets

ESA logoSpace News reports that European officials have launched a modest effort toward developing a reusable rocket:

The French space agency, CNES, on Jan. 5 said it has begun a small technology research program with Germany and other governments to develop a future liquid oxygen/methane-powered rocket stage that would be reusable.

Michel Eymard, CNES’s director of launchers, said European Space Agency governments in December approved a modest research effort to refine technologies eventually needed to recover, refurbish and reuse an entire Ariane rocket stage.

Reusability is not among the features of Europe’s future Ariane 6 rocket, which is scheduled to make an inaugural flight in 2020. Led by CNES and France, which agreed to finance a 52 percent stake in the project, ESA governments are investing more than 4 billion euros ($5 billion) in the Ariane 6.

ESA’s reusable-launcher program is small in size, although when matched with work done by CNES on its own and by the German Aerospace Center, it could produce a consensus on a future technology roadmap by mid-2015. But a vehicle demonstration of the sort SpaceX has planned, he said, will not occur before 2026.

CNES officials have said that in addition to the need for a high launch rhythm, a rocket with a reusable first stage would need to overcome the fact that reusability means reducing the economies of scale realized from producing lots of rocket stages and motors.

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