This reusable space cargo ship will open the door to European space exploration

Artist depiction of SUSIE performing a vertical landing (video speed 2.5 times).
GIF: ArianeGroup / Gizmodo

French aerospace company ArianeGroup has unveiled a concept for a reusable upper stage spacecraft capable of delivering heavy payloads into space and carrying out manned missions before landing vertically on Earth.

It was SUSIE, short for Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration inserted To the world at the International Astronautical Congress held in Paris from 18 to 22 September. The fully reusable upper stage could eventually serve as a robotic cargo ship and payload carrier, as well as a spacecraft for manned missions carrying a crew of up to five astronauts. SUSIE is still a concept for now, but if achieved, the spacecraft will support many European space endeavors for years to come.

Reusability has become a necessity in modern spaceflight, as launch service providers work to cut costs. “It is our industrial duty to contribute to this ambition and to provide smart and ambitious technological solutions to European decision-makers capable of contributing to independent access to space, as well as to opening the door to European space exploration and addressing the commercial and institutional needs of services in Europe,” said Morena Bernardini, Head of Strategy and Innovation at ArianeGroup, at a statement.

Europe’s private space industry has fallen a bit behind its American counterparts in terms of developing reusable vehicles. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a reusable two-stage rocket Fly into space nearly 200 times, while the company’s reusable Dragon capsules, both for shipping and crews, are now steadily in circulation. Boeing’s Starliner, a reusable crew capsule, recently completed The first end-to-end unmanned test flight (Although it was a less than perfect task). Launchers and reusable vehicles are not so much the future as they are the present.

The artist conceived of SUSIE shortly after his separation from the second stage.

The artist conceived of SUSIE shortly after his separation from the second stage.
screenshot: Ariane group

SUSIE will initially launch aboard the company’s Ariane 6 heavy-lift vehicle, which is scheduled to launch on its inaugural flight in 2023. The large upper stage can be used to carry all kinds of payloads into orbit and even help with orbital construction of large infrastructure, such as space stations. On the flight home, the spacecraft can be packed with over 14,000 pounds (7 tons) of cargo and supplies.

Tasks made available by SUSIE include towing, checking and upgrading satellites and other payloads, and refueling, food and equipment for space stations. It will also be able to perform crew change operations and facilitate human activities in orbit.” “It will also help reduce orbital debris and help remove or eject expired satellites.” SUSIE is supposed to be completely reusable and is designed for a soft vertical landing on Earth. The upper stage will also be equipped with a failed safety system that covers the entire mission from take-off to landing.

Apart from SUSIE, ArianeGroup is designing new reusable heavy launch platforms as part of a European Space Agency (ESA) proposal for the NESTS (New European Space Transport Solutions) initiative. Heavy lift launchers could later be used to carry SUSIE into orbit. Europe may be late to the game, but it is planning a strong entry into the reusable spacecraft business.

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