Airbus unveils ambitious Adeline reusable launch system concept
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.
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.
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