Every weekend, an image that made the news or caught our attention. On October 25, ArianeGroup presented to the press a demonstrator of its fully reusable and multifunctional launcher stage project.
In the run-up to the informal Council of theEuropean Space Agencywhich will be held at ministerial level on November 6 at Sevillein Spain, it is rumored that the great ambitions of the Old Continent in terms of manned flightsexpected since the program was stopped Hermes in… 1992, could be reduced to capacities for sending cargo into orbit.
In this perspective, three projects have recently stood out: the caspule Nyx from the Franco-German startup The Exploration Company (which won a very symbolic first commercial contract to serve the Texan company’s private station Axiom Space) ; the cargo ship Argo offered by the Bavarian startup Rocket Factory Augsburg (subsidiary ofHBOT) ; and finally the concept ofArianeGroupwhich we present today.
Susie, the return
We remember the presentation with great fanfare of the project Susie (Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration), opening of the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, September 18, 2022: a fully reusable and multifunctional launcher stage, capable of loading either cargo ( up to 7 t in low orbit), or astronauts (up to five passengers), and thus carry out a whole range of missions.
A vehicle adapted to the most powerful version of the next European heavy launcher, Ariane 64but also to subsequent generations, and whose missions will end with a soft vertical landing, at Guiana Space Center or even elsewhere.
Fully integrated, the concept of Susie had been secretly simmering by ArianeGroup for three years, and saw its roadmap clarified over the last year, with an incremental approach.
In particular, on the question of guidance, navigation and control (GNC) during its return to Earth from the stage, ArianeGroup has developed a 1/6 scale demonstrator (around one hundred kg ), which was presented to the press on October 25 on the website of Mureauxin Yvelines.
The machine is equipped with four turbojet engines running on kerosene and available on shelves, which should make it possible to explore different strategies, propelled, under parachute or under parafoils, during the next 18 months, in Les Mureaux or elsewhere, in “Test & Learn” mode. » (test and learn).
A key technological brick
One of Susie’s interests is to be able to play on three scales (duration, function and geometry), and to be able to remove functions to quickly respond to the needs of institutions or the market – without reinventing the wheel, since ArianeGroup builds on the heritage ofATV (the European automatic cargo ship which, between 2008 and 2014, carried out five resupply missions for the International Space Station) and especially theIXV (the European demonstrator which, in February 2015, carried out a suborbital flight to test all phases of atmospheric reentry).
For Joost van Tooren, head of the program, “it is clear that Susie will provide a key technological building block for needs that could be expressed in Seville and subsequently. And we will be able to adapt this technological brick to the needs expressed by the European institution and those of the market. »
With the current demand for pressurized cargo ships capable of carrying 2 to 3 tonnes of cargo and repatriating some to Earth, a 1/2 scale Susie vehicle (fitting in an Ariane 6 fairing) would constitute an appropriate response. , with several promises, as explained to us Marco Prampolini, future programs engineer at ArianeGroup: great re-entry precision, a large available volume and great freedom in the use of this volume, and finally comfort equivalent to that of a winged vehicle, but with less complexity. So many advantages offered by the aerodynamic concept adopted and a centering envelope significantly compensated, whatever the load on board.
And Marco Prampolini clarifies: “The benefit of an aerodynamic shape of this type is always there, whatever the scale.
The advantage is to be completely stable and controllable from the start of atmospheric reentry until the final subsonic approach phase. This allows parachutes or parafoils to be opened at low altitude and very low speed, with great stability. »