Europe won't have reusable rockets for another decade: report

An artist's illustration of Arianespace's new Ariane 6 rocket at its launch site at Europe's Spaceport in in Kourou, French Guiana. The powerful, expendable rocket has yet to fly.
An artist's illustration of Arianespace's new Ariane 6 rocket at its launch site at Europe's Spaceport in in Kourou, French Guiana. The powerful, expendable rocket has yet to fly. (Image credit: ESA - D. Ducros)

The CEO of France-based launch company Arianespace says Europe will have to wait until the 2030s for a reusable rocket.

Stéphane Israël delivered the comments to a French radio station on April 8, the European Spaceflight newsletter reported.

Arianespace is currently preparing its Ariane 6 rocket for a test flight following years of delays. Europe's workhorse Ariane 5, which has been operational for nearly 30 years, recently launched the JUICE Jupiter mission and now has only one flight remaining before retirement. 

Related: Europe's long-awaited Ariane 6 rocket won't launch before late 2023

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Ariane 6 will be expendable, despite entering development nearly a decade ago, when reusability was being developed and tested in the United States, most famously by SpaceX.

"When the decisions were made on Ariane 6, we did so with the technologies that were available to quickly introduce a new rocket," said Israël, according to European Spaceflight.

The delays to Ariane 6, however, mean that Europe lacks its own options for access to space. This issue was highlighted in a recent report from an independent advisory group to the European Space Agency.

Israël stated that, in his opinion, Ariane 6 would fly for more than 10 years before Europe transitions to a reusable successor in the 2030s.

Aside from Arianespace, Europe is currently fostering a number of private rocket companies, including Rocket Factory Augsburg, Isar Aerospace, PLD Space and Skyrora, with some of these rockets to be reusable. However the rockets in development are light-lift, whereas Ariane 6 and its possible successor are much more capable, medium-heavy-lift rockets.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.

  • Brad
    Maybe it's time to negotiate manufacturing rights for the Falcon 9/Falcon Heavy. It would cut years and cost off the process.
    Reply
  • Lahila
    Arianespace is proving to fall short of Europe's space ambitions: SpaceX is launching for Oneweb, even though Arianespace is only targeting EU national public launches.

    Why would SpaceX give up its monopoly for a company that never believed in reuse and always expected SpaceX's downfall?

    A France fault from any point of view.
    Reply
  • Brad
    Lahila said:
    Arianespace is proving to fall short of Europe's space ambitions: SpaceX is launching for Oneweb, even though Arianespace is only targeting EU national public launches.

    Why would SpaceX give up its monopoly for a company that never believed in reuse and always expected SpaceX's downfall?

    A France fault from any point of view.
    Whether or not the EU ever believed in reusability is beside the point. Spacex only has so many launch sites and only so many launch windows. It makes great business sense for them. The more rockets they build (directly or through licensing) the cheaper each one gets. Brings in royalties for years and sets up Spacex with long term support contracts. If you want access to space to be just like access to commercial flights, then you have to start thinking like airplane manufacturers and airlines.
    Reply
  • BigFire
    Lahila said:
    Arianespace is proving to fall short of Europe's space ambitions: SpaceX is launching for Oneweb, even though Arianespace is only targeting EU national public launches.

    Why would SpaceX give up its monopoly for a company that never believed in reuse and always expected SpaceX's downfall?

    A France fault from any point of view.
    OneWeb actually contracted Ariane Space to launch their satellites with Roscosmos. After Vlad's war started, OneWeb needed to finish launching their satellites to complete their first phase shell, and SpaceX is literally the only company with spare launch capacity to handle this on such short notice. They did get their last birds launch with the Indian Space Launch Program. Oh, Ariane Space is the one that have to eat the Soyuz launch that didn't happened and the write off on the satellites that Roscosmos won't return.
    Reply