Science

France wants to provide Europe with a reusable mini-launcher!

On the occasion of a visit to the ArianeGroup site in Vernon in the Eure region, where the future European Prometheus engine and the reusable Themis first-stage demonstrator are being developed, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy, Finance et de la Relance, announced the first measures of the “France 2030” plan for the space sector.

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During his speech, Bruno Le Maire expressed his desire to “catch up” with the delay that ArianeGroup is leading against the company ofElon musk, a pioneer in the field of reuse. Among the announcements to remember are those aimed at promoting the development of French mini and micro-launchers and the reusable mini-launcher project entrusted to ArianeGroup.

This partially reusable mini-launcher could fly from 2026. It should complete the Arianespace range of launchers and compete with SpaceX and new players are betting on micro-launchers like Rocketlab Where Virgin orbit and his airborne launcher. This little launcher will target the small and very small satellite launch market, as well as the, with a bright future, for constellation launch. That being said, this type of reusable small launcher, provided it is quickly installed and reconditioned, could be of interest to the military for occasional use and during an emergency situation.

A reusable mini-launcher in competition with the Ariane 6 and Vega “dispensers”?

It should be noted that before this announcement the strategy of ArianeGroup and Arianespace was rather to bet on adaptations of Vega and D ‘Ariane 6 providing them with dispensers (distributors) capable of carrying several dozen satellites, rather than developing a mini-launcher to complete the range of launchers operated from the Guyana Space Center.

At the moment, no information has been revealed about the architecture or the performance of this small launcher, which to be operational in such a short time (2026) will use already mastered and mature technologies. Only the main engine will be developed and therefore reusable. Perhaps a shortened version of Prometheus or based on this engine? To follow. As for the economic viability of these future micro-launchers, it cannot be acquired without a strong European preference in matter satellite launch. Which is not exactly the case today.

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