Raumfahrt - ESA plans demonstration of a reusable rocket stage



ESA is taking the first steps towards the in-flight demonstration of a prototype reusable rocket first stage called Themis from 2023.

The Themis programme will provide valuable information on the economic value of reusability for Europe and prove technologies for potential use on future European launch vehicles.

Themis is founded on decisions taken at Space19+, European advances in technologies for reusability and a more agile and cost-driven approach to development.

On 15 December, ESA signed a contract worth €33 million with prime contractor ArianeGroup in France for the ‘Themis Initial Phase’. This first phase of the Themis involves preparation of the flight vehicle technologies, the test bench and static firing demonstrations at Vernon in France. It also includes the preparation of the ground segment at the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, for the first ‘hop’ tests and any associated flight vehicle modifications.

Themis demonstrations
Themis demonstrations

The aim with this programme is to complete tests early on in the development cycle. This will achieve technological milestones that will accelerate development and guide the final build.

ArianeGroup and its collaborators in Belgium, Switzerland, France and Sweden offer critical technical knowhow gained through the development of Europe’s next-generation engine – Prometheus – which will power Themis.

ESA’s Prometheus is a highly versatile engine capable of providing 1000 kN of variable thrust and is reignitable which makes it suitable for core, booster and upper stage application. An onboard computer handles engine management and monitoring in real time – a crucial feature for reusability.


Themis is 30 m high and 3.5 m in diameter. This single-stage vehicle demonstrator holds 130 tonnes of liquid oxygen/methane to fuel three aligned Prometheus engines.

Suborbital flight tests are scheduled as of 2023 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Two landing sites are under consideration: the ‘Diamant zone’, used for experimental demonstrations, or the Ariane 5 launch complex, which will become available after the transition from the Ariane 5 to the next-generation Ariane 6.

ESA and ArianeGroup sign contract for Themis
ESA and ArianeGroup sign contract for Themis

“Themis will advance key technologies and demonstrate reusability capabilities in Europe. This will create additional options for lowering the cost of access to space and increase Europe’s flexibility to offer a variety of launch services,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA Director of Space Transportation.

“Powered by the Prometheus engine demonstrator, running on liquid oxygen/methane or oxygen/hydrogen combinations, Themis will lead to the proving and development of very low-cost launcher solutions, while contributing to energy transition to a more eco-responsible space launcher sector,” added André-Hubert Roussel, CEO at ArianeGroup.

Quelle: ESA


Update: 21.12.2020




ArianeGroup signs contract with ESA to develop Themis reusable stage demonstrator


  •   The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded ArianeGroup the contract for the initial development phase of the Themis reusable rocket stage demonstrator

  •   This first contract, worth 33 million euros, was awarded to ArianeGroup following preparatory work done by ArianeWorks, the innovation accelerator platform created by the French space agency CNES and ArianeGroup

  •   Themis, powered by the Prometheus engine, will enable Europe to develop technologies for future low-cost reusable launchers

    ArianeGroup has received a 33-million-euro contract from the European Space Agency (ESA), to begin the first development phase for the Themis reusable rocket stage demonstrator. Themis will use Prometheus, the very low-cost rocket engine demonstrator currently under development as an ESA programme.

    The aim of the project,developed through the ArianeWorks platform, is to demonstrate Europe’s technological capacity in the field of reusability so that by 2022 the ESA member states will be in a position to determine the range of launchers most suited to the needs of Europe around 2030 based on available technologies, the requirements of Europe, and the evolution of the global space market.

    “In a global context where the leading space powers are investing heavily in their launch systems and developing technologies with a focus on competitiveness, even domination, the sustainability of European access to space is more than ever a strategic issue. It is therefore essential to develop today the technologies that will be part of the launch vehicles of the next decades. This first contract for the development of a reusable rocket stage demonstrator is a clear sign of this ambition,” said ArianeGroup CEO André-Hubert Roussel. “Powered by the Prometheus engine demonstrator, running on liquid oxygen-methane or oxygen-hydrogen combinations, Themis will lead to the proving and development of very low-cost launcher solutions, while contributing to energy transition to a more eco-responsible space launcher sector.”

    The first prototype of the very low-cost, potentially reusable engine Prometheus is currently being assembled. It was developed for ESA on the ArianeGroup sites of Ottobrunn in Bavaria (Germany) and Vernon in Normandy (France), and is due to be tested at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) facility in Lampoldshausen (Baden-Württemberg, Germany).

Prometheus is developed under ESA contract and is the precursor of future European space rocket engines. It could be in use beginning in 2025 on an Ariane 6 potential evolution and is also designed to equip a retro-firing landing stage. It is therefore a key technological step in Themis development.

The Themis program is the first “agile” development deployed on a large scale in the space sector in Europe. Pre-developed in under a year by the ArianeWorks innovation accelerator platform (a cooperation between ArianeGroup and CNES), it was approved at the ESA “Space 19+” Conference last year. The Themis demonstrator should make it possible to fast-track trial of all the technological building blocks necessary for reusability of a complete rocket main stage. A first full- scale tank has already been installed on the PF20 test zone at ArianeGroup’s Vernon site, where Ariane 1 was tested.

The Themis team already brings together French, Swedish, Belgian, and Swiss industrial partners, and will be expanded to include other European partners in the coming months to prepare for the up-coming phases. Sub-orbital flight tests are scheduled to begin in 2023 from the Guiana Space Centre (CSG) in Kourou, French Guiana.

Quelle: ArianeGroup

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