ESA Works on Reusable Rocket Technology to Follow in the Footsteps of Rocket Lab

31st May 2021
Themis Reusable rocket

ESA keeps working on a reusable rocket to rival private aerospace rocket launch operators like Rocket Lab and SpaceX. The agency announced the signing of new contracts to develop a Prometheus rocket engine and a Phoebus upper stage. The engine will be later used to power ESA’s reusable rocket Themis, expected to launch in 2023.

ESA’s Plans for Its Upcoming Reusable Rocket

The European Space Agency signed a €135 million contract to design an engine that would later power its first reusable rocket. The engine will have a 1000kN thrust and will run on liquid oxygen and methane fuel. The Themis rocket will be 98 feet high, with a diameter of 11 feet. Its first suborbital test flight is expected in 2023 and will occur at Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

If everything goes well, Themis will become ESA’s first reusable rocket, which will once again prove that rocket reusability is something worth pursuing. So far, only private companies invested in reusability since this technology ensures rocket launch cost reduction. This, in turn, gives private aerospace companies a competitive edge.

Rocket Lab and SpaceX’s Progress with Reusability

Right now, Rocket Lab and SpaceX are two operators with the highest rocket launch count and frequency. Today, Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 is a solid example of a partially reusable rocket tech, where only the upper stage is expendable. However, the company’s latest development, Starship, is expected to be fully reusable.

Rocket Lab is a small satellite launcher but is equally invested in reusable rocket technology. Today, the company uses a helicopter to recover its booster after each rocket launch. Its current development, Neutron, should become a fully reusable rocket that can support multiple objectives, including sending a probe to Venus.

So, while ESA is working on its first reusable rocket stage, private aerospace companies like Rocket Lab are working on a fully reusable rocket technology for a more affordable rocket launch.

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