ESA signs with Ariane Group of reusable rocket

Space Coast, FL – Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that they are taking the first steps towards the in-flight demonstration of a prototype reusable rocket first stage called Themis from 2023.

The Themis program will provide valuable information on the economic value of reusability for Europe and prove technologies for potential use on future European launch vehicles.

Themis illustration | image: ArianeGroup

ESA signed a contract worth €33 million (euros) with prime contractor ArianeGroup in France for the ‘Themis Initial Phase’. This first phase of the Themis involves preparation of the flight vehicle technologies, the test bench and static firing demonstrations at Vernon in France. It also includes the preparation of the ground segment at the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, for the first ‘hop’ tests and any associated flight vehicle modifications.

Themis Testing

The aim with this program is to complete tests early on in the development cycle. This will achieve technological milestones that will accelerate development and guide the final build.

ArianeGroup and its collaborators in Belgium, Switzerland, France and Sweden offer critical technical knowhow gained through the development of Europe’s next-generation engine – Prometheus – which will power Themis.

Initial phases of Themis | image: ArianeGroup

The initial phase of Themis involves preparation of the test bench and static firing demonstrations at Vernon in France. It also includes the preparation of the ground segment at the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden for the first low-altitude ‘hop’ tests and associated flight vehicle technologies updates. Suborbital tests are scheduled to take place in 2023 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Prometheus is an ultra-low cost reusable rocket engine demonstrator that uses liquid oxygen–methane propellants and will power Europe’s future launchers | image: ArianeGroup

The Engine, Prometheus

ESA’s Prometheus is a highly versatile engine capable of providing 1000 kN of variable thrust and is reignitable which makes it suitable for core, booster and upper stage application. An onboard computer handles engine management and monitoring in real time – a crucial feature for reusability.

Themis is 30 m high and 3.5 m in diameter. This single-stage vehicle demonstrator holds 130 tonnes of liquid oxygen/methane to fuel three aligned Prometheus engines.

Suborbital flight tests are scheduled as of 2023 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Two landing sites are under consideration: the ‘Diamant zone’, used for experimental demonstrations, or the Ariane 5 launch complex, which will become available after the transition from the Ariane 5 to the next-generation Ariane 6.

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