Photo Credit: ArianeGroup Holding
European Space Agency (ESA) is focussing hard on building its own version of low-cost reusable rockets with their Prometheus and Phoebus demonstration projects. This week, the space agency signed two contracts worth a total value of EUR 149.5 million (roughly Rs. 1,333 crores) with ArianeGroup that it said will benefit Europe's new Ariane 6 launcher and also a new generation of European launch vehicles. ESA signed contracts worth EUR 135 million (roughly Rs. 1,204 crores) for Prometheus and EUR 14.6 million (roughly Rs. 130 crore) for Phoebus.
While Prometheus is a low-cost, full-sized, and liquid-fuelled rocket engine demonstrator intended to pave the way for reusable rocket engines, Phoebus is the lighter upper stage of the Ariane 6 launcher. It could boost the launcher's payload capacity to geostationary orbit by more than two metric tonnes and reduce production costs.
A blog in the ESA website quoted Daniel Neuenschwander, the ESA director of space transportation, as saying, “To secure Europe's autonomous access to space at affordable costs, ESA is engaging resolutely in the development of new technologies required for future space transportation solutions. The Prometheus reusable engine and the Phoebus upper stage are excellent examples of this.”
The ESA also mentioned the “two flagship projects” in a tweet on Monday.
???? We're moving ahead with #Prometheus and #Phoebus, two flagship projects that will benefit Europe's @ariane6 heavy-lift vehicle and prepare the #NextGeneration of European rockets ???? https://t.co/zB33RtqRuK pic.twitter.com/9z4fQljW7e— ESA (@esa) May 17, 2021
The ESA said six Prometheus engine demonstrators will be built for tests. And initially, two existing engine demonstrators will be tested at a German facility and the data will be used to make improvements.
“The knowledge we have acquired will enable us to develop lighter, much less expensive engines, making European launchers ever more competitive and environmentally friendly,” said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO of ArianeGroup.