France Wants European Support for New Rocket Engine

CNES_logoFrench space minister Thierry Mandon is seeking European support in developing a reusable, liquid-oxygen, liquid-methane engine called Promethee (Prometheus) designed to compete with SpaceX.

Mandon’s calling the propulsion system both Promethee, French for Prometheus, and Prometheus presages a French effort this December to persuade European Space Agency governments to fund the new propulsion system.

Jean-Marc Astorg, director of launchers at the French space agency, CNES, said during the Mandon briefing that 5-7 Prometheus engines could power the first stage of a future Ariane rocket, each costing 1 million euros ($1.13 million) apiece, compared to the 10-million-euro cost of the single Vulcain cryogenic engine that now powers the Ariane 5 first stage along with two solid-fueled strap-on boosters.

Vulcain is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The Ariane 6 rocket – designed to be one-half the cost of Ariane 5 – is on track to a 2020 launch. It will use a single Vulcain as well, with two or four solid-fueled boosters depending on mission requirements. Ariane 6’s second stage is powered by the Vinci engine, which is also fueled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

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