French aerospace company Arianegroup has revealed a concept for a reusable upper stage spacecraft that would be capable of delivering heavy payloads into space and carrying out crewed missions before landing vertically back on Earth.
SUSIE was the acronym for Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration. introduced To the world at the International Astronaut Congress, held in Paris from 18 to 22 September. The fully reusable upper stage could eventually serve as an automated cargo and payload transporter, as well as a spacecraft for crewed missions carrying a crew of five astronauts. SUSIE is a concept for now, but if it is realized, the spacecraft will support various European space efforts for years to come.
Reusability is rapidly becoming a necessity in modern spaceflight, as launch providers work to keep costs down. “It is our industrial duty to contribute to this ambition and provide European decision makers with smart and ambitious technological solutions capable of contributing to independent access to space and opening the door to European space exploration and addressing commercial and institutional needs for services space in the coming decades,” said Murray Bernardini, Head of Strategy and Innovation at ArianeGroup Statement,
Europe’s private space industry has lagged behind its US counterparts in terms of development of reusable vehicles. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a reusable two-stage rocket with flew into space about 200 times, while the company’s reusable Dragon capsules, whether for cargo or for crew, are now in steady vogue. Boeing’s Starliner, a reusable crew capsule, recently completed its First crewed end-to-end test flight (Although it was a less-than-perfect mission). Reusable launchers and vehicles are not as futuristic as they are present.
SUSIE will initially launch onboard the company’s heavy-lift Ariane 6 vehicle, which is scheduled for its inaugural flight in 2023. The large upper stage could be used to transport all sorts of payloads to orbit and even assist in the orbital construction of large infrastructure, such as space stations. For its return trip home, the spacecraft could be packed with upwards of 14,000 pounds (7 tons) of cargo and supplies.
“Missions made possible by SUSIE include towing, inspecting and upgrading satellites and other payloads, and supplying fuel, food, and equipment to space stations. It will also be able to carry out crew changeovers and facilitate human in-orbit activities,” ArianeGroup claimed in its statement. “It will also help reduce orbital debris and assist with removing or deorbiting end-of-life satellites.” SUSIE is meant to be entirely reusable and is designed to make a soft, vertical landing back on Earth. The upper stage would also be equipped with an abort safety system that covers the entire mission from liftoff to landing.
Aside from SUSIE, ArianeGroup is designing new heavy-lift reusable launchers as part of a proposal for the European Space Agency (ESA) for its NESTS (New European Space Transportation Solutions) initiative. The heavy-lift launchers could later be used to carry SUSIE to orbit. Europe may be late to the game, but it’s planning a solid entry into the business of reusable space vehicles.