Airbus is one of the leading European companies working on advanced space rocket technologies. Today, it unveiled a new concept which would allow it to reuse rockets after launch.
The booster’s main engines would fly back to Earth once the rocket has been successfully launched. The elements returning back to earth would be refurbished to be used for another mission. The company has been working on this idea since 2010 and has conducted several test flight demos.
ULA and SpaceX are also working on their own versions of reusable rockets which would help drive down launch costs significantly. The development on Ariane has been recently started by Airbus. It currently does not include the provision for recovery of components. However, it aims to soon incorporate that into its new rocket launch missions. The firm’s engineers are of the opinion that this new concept system can be built into any rocket regardless of its size. The major components of the rocket that costs more than everything else are the avionics and engines.
Once Adeline’s module has been attached to a rocket, it will help lift the mission off the launching pad but would detach itself from the upper portion of the rocket once tank propellants are exhausted. After detaching itself it would then reenter the earth’s orbit. But unlike in the past when all the remaining components got burnt because of air resistance, it will be provided with a protective heat shield to prevent it from getting melted. After the decent of Adeline to a certain height, it will steer itself towards a runway for safe landing.
The technology behind its maneuver would be very similar to that used in today’s drones. And it would allow Adeline to navigate its way back to earth. However, the system would not be ready before the year 2025.
SpaceX on the contrary has different ideas when it comes to development of a rocket recovery system and it plans to bring back first-stage booster, propellant tanks, and several other key components.
ULA on the other hand is working in Vulcan which is very similar in functionality to that of Adeline. However, ULA wants a helicopter to catch the components in midair.
Many experts believe that no matter what systems these companies develop, the number of complexities involved in reassembling over 50,000 components together to make them work again in sync isn’t that easy. And satellite operators, which are the main clients of these companies, would have to be onboard for these ideas to work. The operators will have to be convinced about the reliability of these rocket recovery systems.
Technical Director of Airbus Space Systems Mr. Herve Gilibert compared his system to that of SpaceX saying, “We are using an aerodynamic shield so that the motor is not subjected to such high stress on reentry. We need very little fuel for the turbofans and the performance penalty we pay for the Ariane 6 launcher is far less than the 30 percent or more performance penalty that SpaceX pays for the reusable Falcon 9 first stage.” However, he did not mention the fact that SpaceX was working on ways to recover more components which would also result in significant amount of savings. Only time will tell which company comes up with the best in technology to guarantee safe recovery of major rocket components in the most economical way possible. How do you think this would impact the costs of launching satellites in space?
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