Space: Susie, the space shuttle for European astronauts designed by ArianeGroup

Responding to a call for projects from the European Space Agency, ArianeGroup unveiled on Sunday on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress in Paris this ambitious program: a phase of its Ariane 6 rocket, which will become a real vehicle and will allow Europeans to send their own astronauts into space within a decade.

ArianeGroup has already filed around thirty patents, “We have some of the technological building blocksnotes Morena Bernardini, director of strategy and innovation for the European industrialist. I can’t say them all, because there are many innovations in Susie, but there is also a European heritage to lean on.”, that of the ATV cargo ships that for a period supplied the ISS, of the aborted Hermès shuttle project or of the Orion (Nasa) service module that was to fly to the Moon. Susie though, it’s something else that “doesn’t look like anything that already exists”slips Morena Bernardini. “Neither ship nor capsule” but a response to a major challenge, European access to space.

“It is important that we have our own “taxi” for low orbitinsists Christophe Bonnal. If we don’t have autonomous access to space by 2030, we will be playing in the second or even third division.”, says the expert from the strategy department of the National Center for Space Studies (Cnes). Which reminds that if Europe relied on partners until then “faithful, we do not go as we will, when we will” and the context has evolved uniquely.

Our “taxi” for low orbit

The war in Ukraine severed ties with Russia, which had offered France its first flight forty years ago. On the American side, the use of SpaceX services has placed Europeans “a business relationship that we are not sure will last. We cannot guarantee that we will get the desired “seats””while space has become a fundamental question, a territory of “new activities that we barely outline”.

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ArianeGroup listed some of them on Sunday and presented Susie, acronym for Smart upper stage for innovative exploration. Transporting astronauts, cargo or scientific instruments, refueling a space station, maintaining a satellite, transporting technicians and elements from an orbital assembly point, such as waste recovery.

Modular, reusable, ambitious

In November 2021, a working group led by Cnes and Christophe Bonnal concluded that a “capsule using the Ariane 6 launcher, for a budget of 3 to 3.5 billion euros, shared between ten countries over several years”, was completely realistic. “We have all the technologies, that pcould fly in 2028 or 2030.” Several manufacturers are in bankruptcy, including ArianeGroup with a lot “ambitious” Susie unveiled at the Paris Astronautical Congress.

“It’s a smart scene in Ariane 6explains Morena Bernardini. Not a vehicle, but an element of the launcher that will replace its fairing” by incorporating the necessary command and control functions capable of operating in automatic or piloted mode, landing vertically and therefore fully reusable. Sometimes cargo, sometimes chartered for manned flights with up to five astronauts on board, suitable both for “Ariane 6, which will fly next year”that for future European heavy launchers it is a “reflection of ten, fifteen years”continues the astronaut engineer.

Central core of #Ariane6 is in the mobile portal at @EuropeSpacePort This combined test model will be used to validate the entire launch system in its ground phase as ready for the first launch

— Ariane 6 (@Ariane6) 12 July 2022

Service and exploration

If ESA, as will be submitted in November, welcomes the project, Susie will initially serve the Earth’s environment, “in cargo version from 2030, then inhabited”. But she can go further reach the moon’s orbitArianeGroup explains, thanks to its ability to receive a space transfer module that provides propulsion and energy and air supply to the crew.

It would then no longer be just a matter of service, prosaically, but of space exploration and myth. “We need big projectsChristophe smiles. So that our young people, our future engineers, can give themselves a perspective.”

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