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ESA’s Themis reusable booster and Prometheus engine get new funding

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Europe’s ESA may finally have its own reusable (and most eco-friendly) rocket boosters and low-cost, eco-friendly 3D printed engines after ArianeGroup-led consortiums have been awarded funding to continue the development of the Themis reusable booster demonstrator and Prometheus reusable rocket engine projects from the European European Commission Horizon Europe program. The pair of awards, SALTO and ENLIGHTEN, total €56.4 million

The SALTO (reuSable strAtegic space Launcher Technologies & Operations) project aims to test vertical landing by a reusable launcher stage prototype within the next two years. The project has a budget of €39M and will include contributions from 26 partners.

ENLIGHTEN (European iNitiative for Low cost, Innovative & Green High Thrust Engine) aims to develop and test advanced production and deployment tech for reusable rocket engines leveraging additive manufacturing technology. The project has a budget of 17.4 million euros and contributions from 18 partners.

The reusable Themis booster

The SALTO project will facilitate the first flight tests of the Themis reusable stage demonstrator in Kiruna, Sweden, while The ENLIGHTEN project will speed up the development and introduction of reusable engine technologies. Each project is built on the joint expertise of ArianeGroup, industry, research institutes and start-ups, to accelerate Europe’s transition to increasingly innovative, competitive and eco-friendly access to space.

Following the call for projects issued by the European Commission as part of its Horizon Europe program designed to encourage and accelerate innovation, ArianeGroup has been given responsibility for two particularly ambitious projects to speed up the development of reusable, eco-friendly European launchers.
ArianeGroup will be heading the SALTO and ENLIGHTEN projects, bringing together numerous academic and industrial partners, including innovative start-ups.

“This European Commission initiative will enable us to accelerate the development of the first reusable and eco-friendly launchers in Europe, by mobilizing all the expertise on our continent and by combining the know-how of the major groups, research institutes and innovative start-ups,” said André-Hubert Roussel, ArianeGroup CEO. “After the unfailing support of the European Space Agency for the Prometheus reusable engine demonstrator and Themis reusable stage demonstrator, this further support from the European Commission – via the financing of ambitious projects – is excellent news for European sovereign access to space.”

ESA's Themis reusable booster and Prometheus engine get new funding via SALTO and ENLIGHTEN program for ArianeGroup-led consortiums

A vertical SALTO

The SALTO (reuSable strAtegic space Launcher Technologies & Operations) project will test vertical landing by a reusable launcher stage prototype within the next two years, with a budget of 39 million euros.

SALTO aims in particular to validate the landing phase, which is essential for launcher recovery. This phase is highly complex and entails a real learning curve – by means of situational tests – to speed up European expertise in this technology. The target vehicle, which comprises a number of technologies matured by ArianeGroup and its partners, will pave the way for even more ambitious demonstrations to reproduce the high-energy trajectory representative of an actual operational launch.

ESA's Themis reusable booster and Prometheus engine get new funding via SALTO and ENLIGHTEN program for ArianeGroup-led consortiums
Themis fuel tanks. Credits: ESA

The SALTO project includes a full-scale demonstrator, which will carry out a number of low-altitude flights from the Kiruna site in Sweden. These tests are being prepared in synergy with ESA’s Themis reusable stage program for which ArianeGroup is the lead contractor, and jointly with the Callisto project sponsored by the French (CNES), German (DLR) and Japanese (JAXA) space agencies. The maturity of the technologies will be achieved through in-flight experimentation and is inspired by Agile development methods. These projects are preparing key technological building blocks for the next generation of reusable and eco-friendly European launchers.

For SALTO, ArianeGroup will be coordinating a consortium of 26 partners from 12 different countries and consisting of: industrial firms: MT Aerospace AG, ArianeGroup GmbH, Safran Data Systems, Safran Electronics & Defense, Avio S.p.A., Sabca, Thales Alenia Space Belgium S.A., GTD Sistemas de Información S.A., GMV Aerospace and Defence SA, Deimos Engineering and Systems S.L.U, Sener TAFS SAU, Swedish Space Corporation, Amorim Cork Composites A. Also part of the consortium are research institutes DLR Institute, CNES, ONERA, IRT Jules Verne, INCAS, and start-ups: ETAEM, ID-Services, Shark Robotics SARL, G.L.Electronics s.r.o, SIA WIT Berry, Realtime Technologies Ltd, SpaceForest sp. z o.o.

ENLIGHTEN it up

ENLIGHTEN (European iNitiative for Low cost, Innovative & Green High Thrust Engine) is designed to develop and test advanced production and deployment technologies for reusable rocket engines, following on from the Prometheus program. The project has a budget of 17.4 million euros.

ENLIGHTEN will strengthen the new propulsion system initiatives that ESA has entrusted to ArianeGroup in order to create a family of reusable, high-power engines using bio-methane or green hydrogen. These engines will power Europe’s future family of reusable, eco-friendly launchers.

ESA's Themis reusable booster and Prometheus engine get new funding via SALTO and ENLIGHTEN program for ArianeGroup-led consortiums
ESA’s Prometheus engine is the precursor of ultra-low-cost rocket propulsion, flexible enough to fit a fleet of new launch vehicles for any mission and potentially reusable. Credits: ESA

The goal will notably be to continue with the development of key technologies for rocket engines, such as additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence, which are essential for monitoring and maintenance applications for reusable engines.

The ENLIGHTEN consortium, headed by ArianeGroup, comprises 18 partners from eight countries (Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Portugal) and consists of industrial firms: ArianeGroup GmbH, Avio S.p.A., APP, ADIRA Metal Forming Solutions. Research institutes and universities include DLR, Fraunhofer, IREPA, KU Leuven, ONERA, Silicon Austria Labs. Selected SMEs and start-ups include: Aiko, Areelis, AZO, Edgise, Erneo, Laser Cladding Venture, Proekspert.

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