Space

Airbus unveils ambitious Adeline reusable launch system concept

Airbus unveils ambitious Adeli...
Artist's concept of AirBus's Ariane 6 launch vehicle, with the Adeline system at the base of the rocket
Artist's concept of AirBus's Ariane 6 launch vehicle, with the Adeline system at the base of the rocket
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Artist's concept of AirBus's Ariane 6 launch vehicle, with the Adeline system at the base of the rocket
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Artist's concept of AirBus's Ariane 6 launch vehicle, with the Adeline system at the base of the rocket
Artist's impression of Adeline separating from the fuel tank, ready to re-enter Earth's atmosphere
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Artist's impression of Adeline separating from the fuel tank, ready to re-enter Earth's atmosphere
Artist's impression of the Adeline module flying toward its landing strip under the power of twin propellers
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Artist's impression of the Adeline module flying toward its landing strip under the power of twin propellers
Artist's impression of the Adeline module coming in for a horizontal landing
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Artist's impression of the Adeline module coming in for a horizontal landing
Adeline demonstrator ready to undergo testing
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Adeline demonstrator ready to undergo testing
Airbus engineers stand over a Adeline demonstrator
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Airbus engineers stand over a Adeline demonstrator
Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
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Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
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Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
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Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies
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Airbus has already tested numerous Adeline demonstrator UAVs to hone key technologies

Airbus Defence andSpace has unveiled its concept for a reusable first stage launchvehicle to compete with SpaceX's reusable space launch system. The ADvanced Expendable Launcher with INnovative engineEconomy (Adeline) would preserve the main engines andavionics of the company's next generation Ariane 6 and otherlaunch vehicles, for use in later missions.

According to Airbus,the components contained in the Adeline re-entry module would accountfor around 70 to 80 percent of the total value of the launch vehicle.Therefore, if the ambitious concept were to become reality, it wouldrepresent a significant step towards creating a highly affordable andversatile launch solution. But more importantly, Adeline would help to solidify the company's position in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

The system, located atthe base of a launch vehicle, is essentially a detachable, protectivemodule, designed to act as the thrusters and guidance system for themain stage of an Airbus rocket. Having fulfilled its primaryobjective of liberating the upper stage of an Ariane launch vehiclefrom Earth's atmosphere, Adeline would return to Earth and readied to do it all again.

Here's how a perfectexecution of the Adeline system would work in practice. Once thefirst stage of the launch vehicle reaches the end of its usefulness,it separates from the rocket's second stage. During this process, theheat-shielded Adeline detaches itself from the fuel tank that makes up the bulk of the first stage, and undertakes a ballisticflight back through Earth's atmosphere.

Artist's impression of Adeline separating from the fuel tank, ready to re-enter Earth's atmosphere
Artist's impression of Adeline separating from the fuel tank, ready to re-enter Earth's atmosphere

Once atmosphericre-entry is complete, Adeline behaves much like a conventional UAV, flying on winglets, and propelled by twin propellers that deploy atthe rear of the module. If all goes to plan, Adeline would descend to its designated landing strip and safely touch down, after which itwould be refurbished, and readied to serve as the main stage ofanother Ariane rocket. Airbus has stated that the system could cut launch vehicle costs by up to 30 percent.

The approach is amarked contrast to the competing SpaceX system, which attempts tosalvage the entire first stage of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle byutilizing its main engine and soft-landing struts to execute apowered vertical landing. To date, testing of the SpaceX system hasbeen met with mixed results.

Artist's impression of the Adeline module coming in for a horizontal landing
Artist's impression of the Adeline module coming in for a horizontal landing

The Adeline system hasbeen in development since 2010. To date, Airbus has carried outsimulator testing, and has even flight tested a number of demonstrator models designed to develop key technologies.The company is aiming to be ready for the maiden launch of the Adeline system some time in the year 2025.

Beyond Adeline, Airbusis attempting to make the Ariane 6 launch vehicle as economicallyviable as possible with the use of upper stage tugs. The companybelieves that the upper stage of its next generation launch system could be used to drag satellites into a transfer orbit, or possibly even into their operational orbit. In such a scenario, the tugs would be designed to be reusable, with Airbus considering utilizing the probes to service and refuel existing satellites.

A computer animation of the concept can be viewed below.

Source: Airbus Defence& Space

Meet Adeline, Airbus' Answer to SpaceX Reusability

4 comments
andyfreeze
It seems to me the obvious way to send stuff into space economically is to bypass the costly first stage. Why not a floating platform. helium filled, it can lift incredible weights to 20-30 kms . Then you wouldnt need so much fuel. Two approaches come to mind. An individual lift and launch or a fixed launch platform.
Stickmaker
Altitude helps, but the main problem is the speed needed to make orbit. This is why so many launch sites are on or near the equator; to get the boost from the Earth's rotation.
Kevin Ritchey
From what I can see, good luck on getting the fat piglet to land properly. It looks less airworthy than the space shuttle. I think the science fiction boys have it right with a mag-lev launch rail gaining the proper inertia that way.
Stephen N Russell
I see weight issue for landing module alone with wings & engines. & OK for boosters using the Space X approach