Europe's ArianeWorks Aims for Reusable Rockets (with a Very SpaceX Look)

Europe's rocket-launching industry is gearing up to go reusable.

The European launch provider Arianespace — best known as the manufacturer of the heavy-lift Ariane 5 and the future Ariane 6 — has a plan to make its future rockets more competitive in a tight launch industry. As you might guess from looking at the U.S. company SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, reusability is what Arianespace wants to do as well.

Back in February, ArianeGroup and CNES (the French space agency) signed a memorandum of understanding for a new "acceleration platform" that will work to develop new launchers, including reusable ones. The platform, called ArianeWorks, unites teams under one roof and provides all the ingredients possible for innovation: "a highly flexible environment, open to new players and internationally," according to a press release from the time.

Video: ArianeWorks' Reusable Rocket Plans Explained
Related: The Evolution of SpaceX's Reusable Rockets in Pictures

An ArianeWorks reusable Themis rocket prototype returns to Earth in a video animation of the group's new reusable rocket program. (Image credit: ArianeWorks)

The interim results are coming soon: two low-cost demonstrators that will examine how to recover the first stage of a rocket launching to space. An elementary experimental vehicle called Frog will test many of the technologies needed for this kind of work, including "landing algorithms, automated operations and the avionics architecture." These concepts will then be ported on to another, more robust demonstrator called Themis. 

In May, ArianeWorks announced that a Paris-based prototyping firm called MyCTO would build the first Themis prototype; the partners on Frog include Planète Sciences, Polyvionics and Cachan Technology Institute (Paris Saclay University).

ArianeWorks will use the small Frog reusable rocket  demonstrator to test technologies for larger reusable rockets.  (Image credit: ArianeWorks/MyCTO)

CNES and ArianeSpace are also working together to make an engine called Prometheus, which uses oxygen and methane as its propellant and can be adapted for multiple rocket platforms. Methane and oxygen produce products that are more environmentally friendly than many other rocket fuels. Themis will use the Prometheus engine for its landings, which means that the rocket demonstrator will not only be reusable, but also less harsh on the environment during launch and landing.

This isn't the first time that Arianespace has looked at reusable vehicles; a reusable sounding rocket called Callisto is also in the works. 

Callisto is meant to test how fuels perform in various engine designs. Some of the groundwork for Callisto will flow into the development for Themis, Arianespace said in a YouTube video released earlier this year. 

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: