ArianeGroup has just offered the European Space Agency (ESA) a reusable module compatible with the Ariane 6 rocket, allowing manned flights and freight transport to the International Space Station (ISS). This project will be presented tomorrow, Tuesday 22 November, to the ESA Ministerial Council.
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 a concept for a new reusable and multi-mission upper stage in mid-September. It could, among other things, serve 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-tonne module could just as easily be integrated into the heavy version of the Ariane 6 rocket (Ariane 64) as on a next-generation launcher. It would replace the current headdress. Reusable like the capsule Space X’s Crew Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, Susie would be able to carry out several types of mission. With its 40 m3 volume, the vehicle could be used to transport freight 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. The vessel could indeed also be used to carry out so-called “in-orbit services” missions: towing, satellite inspection, human work in orbit. Subsequently, it could also contribute to the reduction of debris in orbit and the retirement of end-of-life satellites. Susie would theoretically be able to bring a payload in excess of 7 tons back to Earth. In terms of exploration, Susie could finally be used to carry out long-distance exploration missions. Thanks to its ability to receive a space transfer module, providing propulsion and energy and air supply for the crew, reaching lunar orbit would be possible.
Susie, a European space ambition
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 decades to come. »
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 the ESA Ministerial Council to be held on 22 and 23 November in Paris. By obtaining a few tens of millions of euros, studies can then be launched. Objective: that a European vehicle can enter service to provide cargo flights in 2028, and manned flights from 2030.