Jun 09 2015

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Airbus enters the Reusable Rocket game

Airbus’ Ultimate In Recycling… Tests Partially Reusable Space Launcher System… Not Like SpaceX’s. So ULA has their “Snag the rocket parachute with a helicopter” approach, Lockheed Martin has their Jupiter concept, and now we have Airbus’ Adeline concept.

The article is pretty poorly written (probably an English translation of a French article), but the gist of the Adaline (which stands for Advanced Expendable Launcher with Innovative Engine Economy) concept is to recover the rocket engine part by having it re-enter the atmosphere and then fly like a UAV drone to an airfield.

Of the four reusable concepts listed above (including SpaceX’s), Airbus’ plan makes the least sense to me — you’re basically including an entire atmospheric flight system to your rocket, adding weight and complexity to your solution. It may ultimately be less risky than ULA’s snag-the-parachute approach, but it’s difficult for me to buy that they’re going to cut costs by 30% using this approach. Plus, it won’t be operational until 2025 (at the earliest), and that’ll put them at least 5 years behind ULA, and about 10 years behind SpaceX, on rocket re-usability. No doubt both companies will have developed other efficiencies into their systems by then.

The article also touches on Airbus’ Space Tug concept…which I can’t tell if it’s part of Adeline or not (not?). I see no market for a refueling Space Tug — they say that it will save launch costs by pre-staging satellite fuel on orbit, but

  • There’s still a launch cost in getting the fuel into orbit. It’s not like that would be free to the customer. The launch costs would likely be included in the overhead of the satellite launch cost. Or be a subsidy from the EU, in which case everyone in Europe would be footing the bill.
  • I believe more and more satellites will go the way of SEP (Solar Electric Propulsion) instead of conventional fuel, absent some ISRU fuel solution. A decade from now (or more), there may not be much of a satellite fuel market left for Airbus’ Space Tug.
  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it turn out that in the current environment (non-modular satellites, Moore’s Law increasing the pace of technology and miniaturization), there just isn’t a business case to support on-orbit satellite refurbishment. It’s one of those great concepts that makes one no money. (ed: like running a blog? Quiet you!)

Just not feeling the Airbus solution…

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/06/09/airbus-enters-the-reusable-rocket-game/

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