ArianeGroup has just offered the European Space Agency (ESA) a reusable module compatible with the Ariane 6 rocket, enabling manned flights and cargo transport to the International Space Station (ISS). This project will be presented tomorrow, Tuesday 22 November, to the ESA Council of Ministers.
By sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and beyond, in total autonomy, ArianeGroup is seriously considering this. The joint venture, owned equally by Airbus and Safran, presented in mid-September a concept for a new reusable and multi-mission upper stage. Among other things, it could function as a transport module for astronauts. His nickname? Susie for Smart Upperstage for innovative exploration.
12 meters long and 5 meters in diameter, this 25-ton module could be integrated as easily into the heavy version of the Ariane 6 rocket (Ariane 64) as onto a next-generation launch vehicle. It would replace the current headgear. Reusable like the capsule Space X’s Crew Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, Susie would be able to perform multiple types of missions. With its 40 m3 volume, the vehicle could be used to transport cargo to supply the ISS with fuel, food and equipment and to transport up to five astronauts. It would then return to land gently on Earth thanks to its propellant engines.
But that’s not all, and that’s Susie’s strength. Indeed, the ship could also be used to perform so-called “in-orbit services” missions: towing, satellite inspection, human work in orbit. Subsequently, it can also contribute to the reduction of waste in orbit and the withdrawal of end-of-life satellites. Susie would theoretically be able to bring a payload of over 7 tons back to Earth. In terms of exploration, Susie could finally be used to conduct long-range exploration missions. Thanks to its ability to receive a space transfer module that provides propulsion and energy and air supply to the crew, it would be possible to reach lunar orbit.
Susie, a European space aspiration
Morena Bernardini, Director of Strategy and Innovation at ArianeGroup, believes that it is their industrial duty to “offer European decision-makers intelligent and ambitious technological solutions capable of contributing to independent access to space, but also to pave the way for European space exploration and to meet the commercial and institutional needs for space services in the coming decades.
Susie is not the only European project on the table. Didier Schmitt, the head of human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency, whom we contacted, indicates that he is currently conducting consultations on the subject with several European industrialists. The idea is to be able to present various projects at ESA’s Council of Ministers, which will be held on 22 and 23 November in Paris. By obtaining a few tens of millions of euros, investigations can then be launched. Objective: that a European vehicle can be put into service to provide cargo flights in 2028 and manned flights from 2030.