Ariane 6 four booster configuration, Credit: ESA
ArianeSpace is considering a reusable first stage engine, dubbed Prometheus, for the Ariane 6 launcher. But hesitancy among ArianeSpace management to embrace reusability still remains. If developed, the Prometheus engine would replace the Vulcain 2.1 expendable engine, the current power source of the Ariane 6, some time between 2025-2030. The first launch of the Ariane 6 is scheduled for 2020.
ArianeSpace executives are sceptical of the benefits of a reusable system, according to SpaceNews. Executives fear that a reusable engine would kill the cost efficiencies of ArianeSpace’s manufacturing process by decimating its industrial workflow.
With a target of just 12 launches a year for the Ariane 6, ArianeSpace would only manufacture one Prometheus engine each year. Additionally, ArianeSpace worries that it would not be able to support the current levels of industrial production with more commercial launches if Prometheus was instituted because it has such a high cost base which makes it difficult to compete in the global commercial satellite market.
However, to remain competitive in a world of reusable rockets and decreasing launch prices, ArianeSpace is still contemplating the development of Prometheus. Additionally, Airbus has been working on Adeline, a reusable engine concept shaped like a mini aircraft, complete with wings and propellers, that could be combined with Prometheus and implemented on the Ariane 6. Instead of a vertical landing, Adeline lands just like an airplane on a runway.
Intended to ensure European access to space, the Ariane 6 is public-private partnership between ArianeSpace, which is comprised of various European aerospace conglomerates such as Airbus and Safran, and the European Space Agency (ESA). With the general downward price pressure in the launch market and the push towards reusability, ArianeSpace is a legacy institution struggling to cope with a more competitive market.
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