Tuesday, December 19, 2017

ESA Signs €75Mln Euro ($114Mln CDN) Contract With Arianespace to Develop Prometheus Reusable Rocket

          By Chuck Black

CEO Steve Matier and his colleagues at Canso, NS based Maritime Launch Services (MLS), who insist that they are about to build a NS based, commercial rocket launch facility for the expendable Cyclone 4M rockets being designed by the Dnipro, Ukraine based Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, might want to take note.

It isn't just US based entrepreneurs like Hawthorne, CA SpaceX with its crazy CEO Elon Musk or Kent, WA based Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos (currently listed by Forbes as being the "richest person in the world"), who are developing reusable orbital rocket launchers.

The European Space Agency (ESA) and ArianeGroup (a joint venture of Toulouse, France based Airbus SE and Paris, France based Safran Group which acts as the primary contractor for manufacturing of the Ariane 5 launch vehicle) have just signed a contract worth €75Mln Euros ($114Mln CDN) to move forward with the development of the Precursor Reusable Oxygen METHan cost Effective Engine (Prometheus), a proposed low cost and reusable rocket engine.

The new contract covers a full-scale Prometheus demonstrator for the engine currently expected to power Europe’s future launchers, beginning in the 2020's.

The project is being pitched to the ESA as the only way to remain competitive with the reusable US based launch providers.

As outlined in the December 18th, 2017 Room: The Space Journal post, "Prometheus to power future European launchers," the engine "is a move away from the traditional Ariane propellant technology. Not only does the engine have the potential to be re-used up to at least five times, but the key propellant ingredient is no longer hydrogen, but methane."

According to the article:
Prometheus will burn a mixture of liquid oxygen and methane which has the added benefit of simplifying the propulsion stage design. 
Coupled with significant economic savings gleaned from the additive layer-by-layer manufacturing production (3D printing) of the engine, Prometheus could cost just a tenth of what the current Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine costs - that is a potential saving of nine million euros (per build).
The SpaceX Falcon-9 orbital rocket utilizes Merlin 1D rocket engines burning liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1). The current Blue Origin New Shepard suborbital rocket uses a BE-3 bi-propellant rocket engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

Of course, any commercial Canadian launch facility operating legacy, expendable rockets probably understands the competition as well as anyone, especially when the competition has such as obvious technological advantage as "reusability."

All of which means that there is likely more to this story than meets the eye. Perhaps the December 18th, 2017 Global Research post, "Canada Becomes Party to Ukraine’s Conflict. Sells Lethal Weapons to Kiev Regime," explains the underlying situation best.

According to the post:
The Canadian government has given the green light for national defence contractors to sell weapons to Ukraine. This makes Canada a party to the conflict (the Crimean Crisis, a conflict with Russian Federation, which annexed the Crimea in 2014) with all ensuing consequences. The decision sets no preconditions for selling the armaments to Ukraine. 
It has been taken despite the fact that Project Ploughshare (the developer of the annual Space Security Index, which covers emerging concerns related to the safety, security and sustainability of outer space activities) and Amnesty International Canada opposed the plan, saying Kiev has so far failed to improve the human rights situation. 
Canada’s Standing Committee on National Defense has published a report entitled “Canada’s Support to Ukraine in Crisis and Armed Conflict,” which recommends that the government provide lethal weapons to Ukraine if it demonstrates active work on fighting corruption in the country.
Whether or not the Canadian governments "green light" includes the provision to transfer Ukrainian missile technology to Canada as required is not yet clear from available reports. All that is certain is that the business case for expendable rockets like the Cyclone-4M is also not yet clear in the face of reusable and lower cost competition from competitors like SpaceX, Blue Origin and the ESA.

This blog last compared the Prometheus rocket program to the MLS Cyclone-4M program in the February 6th, 2017 post, "Europe Will Fund the Prometheus Reusable Engine; Canada Pitched Cyclone-4's," and expects to revisit both projects in the new year.

We last discussed the capabilities of Ukrainian rocket companies in the November 16th, 2017 post, "More Rocket Shenanigans, Parts Problems at KB Yuzhnoye & Skyrora's Plan for a Scottish/ Ukrainian Spaceport."
    Chuck Black.

    Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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