This month, the European Commission released a new three-year project to develop technologies for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The Commission provided the German Space Agency DLR and five companies with EUR 3 million to "remedy the lack of know-how for reusable rockets in Europe," according to a press release on the project.
This novelty The objectives of the RETALT project are to duplicate the technology used by SpaceX to land the first stages of the Falcon 9 rocket on land and on autonomous drone vessels. The ability of the Falcon 9 rocket to land and fly again "is currently dominating the global market," states the European project. "We believe that it is imperative to investigate landing technologies with the help of retro-drives to bring Europe's reusability up to date."
SpaceX tested the supersonic retro-drive back in September 2013. The company first flew its updated Falcon 9 rocket, version 1.1. This involves re-igniting the rocket's Merlin engines as the hawk thunders through the atmosphere at supersonic speed. Re-igniting a rocket's engines and controlling descent with aerodynamic surfaces posed a tremendous technical challenge that the company has largely mastered.
Originally, SpaceX's competitors were skeptical of the concept of vertical rocket landing, but since then the company has scored dozens of successes – and started flying the same first-stage boosters two or even three times – that have settings started to change. The US-based United Launch Alliance has begun researching the reuse of its rocket engines, China has dozens of new space companies exploring this type of reuse technology, and now Europe seems to have changed its attitude as well.
While European space companies have acknowledged the success of SpaceX and previously noted that reuse is not a viable option for a continent that fires only five to ten rockets a year. It would not be sustainable if a European factory built just one rocket a year, officials said. Instead, the European strategy was to lower the cost of the Ariane and Vega launchers.
However, the attitude of the new RETALT project seems to indicate that reusable launchers are inevitable in Europe. Engineers will work on two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that uses seven modified Vulcain-2 rocket engines and has the capacity to lift up to 30 tonnes into a near-earth orbit. The second vehicle will be a revolutionary vehicle, similar to the state of the art in the US only in its kind of the Rotary rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago.
Beginnings in Europe, "the press release said," The consortium is determined to take up the challenge and become key players in this groundbreaking technology. "
Listing image by RETALT