Arianespace has suggested that although they are exploring the idea of reusability for their upcoming Ariane 6 launch vehicle, they remain unconvinced.
The idea of reusability isn’t new with NASA’s reusable Space Shuttle first launching over 35 years ago on April 12, 1981. However, with the death of the programme in 2011, it was left to commercial launch companies like SpaceX to take up the mantle of reusable launch vehicles.
The Ariane 6 launch vehicle is set to take its maiden flight in 2020. The launch vehicle will be fitted with the company’s Vulcain 2.1 liquid engine, an upgrade from the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine. This initial configuration will be completely expendable with no option of reusability.
However, in a bid to ensure the company is not left flat-footed in the wake of SpaceX and Blue Origin’s reusability progress, Arianespace is developing a second engine for the Ariane 6, the Prometheus. The second engine will likely only be launch-ready at the earliest by 2025, a full 5 years after the Ariane 6’s maiden flight.
One of the main reasons behind the reluctance to pursue full reusability is the company’s relatively small launch schedule. Where SpaceX is looking to launch as many as 40 times next year, Arianespace is content with just 12. As a result, if a reusable Ariane 6 has a lifecycle of 12 launches, the company will only be producing a single launch vehicle each year. The result would essentially be that much of the company’s manufacturing industry would remain dormant for most of the year. The Ariane 6, as a result, is unlikely to be offered in a reusable setup.
Arianespace is, however, exploring the possibility of salvaging the launch vehicle’s payload fairings. Ruag Space, a Swiss manufacturer is currently developing the technology with reports of interest from Arianespace.
In an interview with SpaceNews.com, the head of the Ariane 6 program, Patrick Bonguet explained that if Ruag Space can deliver, Arianespace would look to implement their reusable fairings. “They have presented to us their concept. If it is working, and if it is bringing cost savings, we will be happy to accommodate it.”
Image Credit: Arianespace