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Europe's reusable 'Susie' spacecraft could launch astronauts on future deep-space missions

The rocket-launching firm ArianeGroup plans to bring astronauts to space aboard 'Susie.'

The European rocket-launching giant announced a new upper stage designed to carry out crewed or uncrewed missions on Arianespace rockets in Earth orbit or even to the moon

The upper stage is called Susie (Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration) and will be mounted on the forthcoming Ariane 64 rocket, which the company says will herald fully reusable rockets in the coming years.

Related: NASA looks to private outposts to build on International Space Station's legacy

As the space community reaches for private space stations and moon missions, ArianeGroup said a flexible, reusable and modular spacecraft would best fit the needs of multiple clients. (Arianespace is the launching entity under ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran.) 

"Susie is an entirely reusable rocket stage project," ArianeGroup wrote in a Sept. 16 release (opens in new tab). "It is capable of going into space and carrying out many different types of missions there — whether automated or crewed — and coming back to land on Earth."

The crewed version of Susie would carry up to five astronauts with an abort system designed to work at any point during the mission. Payload capacity could flex as required for "essential missions in space", which ArianeGroup suggests will continue to increase as NASA and its partners reach for crewed Artemis program missions on the moon in the coming decade.

Video: Meet Ariane 6 and Vega C: Europe's New 'Rideshare' Rockets 

ArianeGroup's Susie spacecraft  could take crews or payloads to lunar orbit, as seen in this artist's impression. (Image credit: ArianeGroup)
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Following missions, Susie would come back to Earth for a soft landing and would be repurposed for future flights, as the spacecraft is fully reusable. The various missions it is envisioned for include satellite servicing, manufacturing orbital facilities, dealing with space debris or sending essential items to astronauts on deep-space missions. 

"This is a project built on all the existing know-how at ArianeGroup and within European industry. It is consistent with ongoing or future technological developments in the field of space transport and reuse," Morena Bernardini, ArianeGroup's head of strategy and innovation, said in the same statement. 

The company noted Susie will be able to use several launchers, including the upcoming Ariane 6, which may fly as soon as 2023. Susie was designed so that its 60-foot (12-meter) length, along with its 15-foot (five-meter) diameter can fit the Ariane 6 launcher.

Further in the future, Susie fits into the European Space Agency's vision of reusable, modular launchers under the New European Space Transportation Solutions (NESTS) initiative, which seeks to build launchers around common building blocks to save on cost and development. 

Depending on mission needs, ArianeGroup said future missions will fly to space hubs and then on to their destination, rather than directly point to point.

Susie was unveiled at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, which runs through Thursday (Sept. 22). 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.