European rocket industry has a long history providing commercial launch services. Some thirty years ago it was amongst the first players flying satellites into space from Kourou, French Guiana.
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Half of all the communication satellites were flown from the tropical spaceport of Kourou, a former French colony - a fact almost forgotten in nowadays news flood of the space race between (mostly) private companies.
European space engineering is far from being asleep though, as a press release issued last week by the initiative called ArianeWorks shows.
ArianeWorks is a collaboration of a multitude of space actors, like rocket manufacturer Ariane Group and the French Space Agency, CNES. The platform’s goal is to build a multiple-engine first-stage rocket cable of launching vertically and landing by the launch site.
Mission in a nutshell
In joining the contemporary competition of developing reusable launch vehicles, ArianeWorks states in the press release that the initiative will work like a hub, where ’teams work together in a highly flexible environment, open to new players and internationally.’
Learning from the current stream what dominates the most high-tech industry they continue: ‘In this era of NewSpace and in the context of fierce competition, ArianeWorks will accelerate innovation at grassroots level, in favor of mid-tier firms and start-ups, with commitment to reducing costs a major priority,…’
Yes, this is another attempt showing that the age of monolithic giants is over, and anyone who wants to be successful in this field needs to understand that a loose connection between various fields serves not only the sake of innovation but this framework of shared creativity can also help to keep costs as low as possible.
ArianeWorks - animation helps
The initiative published a promotional video together with the announcement. There are three keywords, some of them already familiar for those space-race enthusiasts: Themis, Callisto, and Prometheus, three names borrowed from Greek mythology, just to underline the Europeanness of the endeavor.
Themis is the reusable first-stage rocket powered by multiple Prometheus engines, carrying Callisto, a hopper vehicle responsible for the vertical landing.
Have I seen all these before?
The viewer observes a rocket launching and another rocket landing vertically with the assistance of four ‘legs’ right next to it. It is, indeed, shows utmost similarities to SpaceX’s invention called Grasshopper, the unit Elon Musk’s private space company has been experimenting with since a while.
But this is not the only resemblance: the Themis rocket looks a lot like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, not to mention the multiple engines technology with the thrust of a hundred tons each. Although it must be mentioned that while SpaceX’s Merlin 1D engines are fueled by kerosene, ArianeWorks’ Prometheus uses liquid oxygen and methane.
Jean Marc-Astorg, the head of the launch vehicle program at CNES was surprisingly frank when answering questions about the alikeness: ‘The Chinese are also building a similar prototype, I have no problem saying we didn’t invent anything.’
As we said before, using the current models of creativity and invention might pays off on a long run, considering the fact that SpaceX’s technology proves itself on the ground daily (off the ground, too), while the Europeans are still waiting for some monetary back-up from respective governments until the real take-off of the Themis.