In a bid to compete with SpaceX, French launch provider ArianeGroup has unveiled a new low-cost vehicle that borrows heavily from the design of the Falcon 9.
The new vehicle, codenamed Themis, was revealed with the announcement of a partnership between ArianeGroup and French space agency, CNES. ArianeGroup CEO André-Hubert Roussel and CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall signed a memorandum of understanding creating the partnership, dubbed ArianeWorks on February 21. According to a press release published on the ArianeGroup website, ArianeWorks will act as “an acceleration platform dedicated to the preparation of future launchers.”
Development of the future launchers will begin with the Themis suborbital test vehicle. The proposed development plan mimics that of the SpaceX Falcon 9 that began with suborbital test flights of the Grasshopper vehicle. The proposed vehicle is a single stage rocket that features control fins and four retractable landing legs that appear to have been lifted directly from a Falcon 9.
A promotional video released with the announcement of the vehicle revealed that it will be powered by the Prometheus Oxygen/Methane engine that will be capable of 100 tons of thurst. The video also touts the launcher as being 10 times cheaper, although it’s unclear as to what benchmark they used for comparison.
In addition to work on the Themis vehicle, ArianeWorks aims to accelerate innovation at a grassroots level by supporting mid-tier firms and start-ups. The hope is to create a thriving launch industry within Europe that can compete with the likes of China, the US and Russia.