Airbus Introduces the SpaceX Falcon Fighter “Adeline”

Adeline: Image Credit Airbus

Ever since SpaceX changed the focus of its quest for launch vehicle re-usability from parachute recovery to powered first stage landings, observers have wondered just what response might be offered by uber competitor and market leader Arianespace.  At first, the French led consortium scoffed at the potential threat posed by Elon Musk and his newspce company, but the tone began to change as the updated Falcon 9 V1.1 began to win more and more launch contracts in the categories for which it could compete.

Even with a change in leadership, a change in ownership, a change in name, and more importantly, a new, lower cost launch vehicle in the upcoming Ariane 6, it still seemed that perhaps Europe wasn’t taking the threat to its dominance seriously. After all, even though the new booster is designed to draw it within competitive range of where the fully expendable Falcon 9 is today, until late last week there has been little released suggesting how the new booster could hope to compete with where SpaceX is likely to be early in the next decade.

That changed somewhat with the announcement of Adeline, an inevitable acronym for Advanced Expendable Launcher with Innovative Engine Economy. A variation on a design path which has been around for decades, Adeline is a recoverable first stage propulsion package enclosed with a fairing turned airframe which would return to the launch site on short wings and under the power of two turbofan engines.

According to an article in Space News detailing the press conference at which Adeline was introduced, Airbus Defense and Space, which has been working on the project in secret for the last five years, says that it could reduce launch costs by 20-30%. Although certainly not insignificant, it also may not be enough to materially change Europe’s prospects as it seeks to combat an ever moving target in SpaceX. Also in doubt is the actual degree of commitment to developing Adeline. Thus far Airbus Defense and Space has spent $16.5 million on the project, with the clear implication that European governments would be expected to pick up the tab for full development.

If the idea sounds familiar, it is not too different from the United Launch Alliance’s proposed first stage engine recovery for the the new Vulcan booster.  In that case, a detachable propulsion descending through the atmosphere vial ballute, would be snatched out of the air by helicopter.  In both cases, Airbus Safran and ULA would face the prospect of building and integrating a new first stage tank structure for less than the performance penalty and refurbishment elements of the Falcon 9 first stage.  As an added challenge, both SpaceX competitors also rely on solid rocket boosters for first stage thrust augmentation, Airbus-Safran in both booster variants and ULA in some of the Vulcan versions. Overcoming these additional non-recoverable costs could well be a difference maker. Provided of course, the target has not moved once again.

About the Author:

1 Comment on "Airbus Introduces the SpaceX Falcon Fighter “Adeline”"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. One really has to wonder if these guys are paying attention, or doing the math. By the end of 2015, SpaceX should have successfully tested first-stage recovery, and by the end of 2016, with the extended V1.1 it should be routine. That should drive launch cost-savings of something like 70-80% for SpaceX.

    At that point, SpaceX would be poised to drop their launch prices by, say, 50%, and drive out all competition from the commercial launch market (while increasing their profit margin at the same time). Ariane 6 may never even get off the ground against that kind of competition, and if it does it will only be with government (or government-subsidized) payloads.

    And these guys think a 30% cost reduction in 2025 is going to save Arianespace? The company won’t be around that long.

Post a Comment