Airbus Unveils Reusable Rocket Launcher


Airbus is working on a reusable launch vehicle that could boost a rocket into space, then fly back home like a drone and land on a runway. The winged and powered vehicle, called Adeline, has been in the works since 2010, Airbus said on Friday. Airbus allowed a contingent of reporters a look at the technology at its Ariane production center in France, ahead of next week’s Paris Air Show. The craft is designed to launch like a rocket and carry its satellites or other payload into orbit, then the lower part would return to Earth with the most expensive parts of the launch system — the avionics, engine, and propulsion bay. The system could recover up to 80 percent of the spacecraft’s value, resulting in launches about 30 percent cheaper compared to traditional systems, the company said.

Airbus is competing with SpaceX, which has said it wants to bring the cost of a space launch down to about $100 million, from today’s cost of up to $500 million, by using reusable components. Airbus said its reusable launch system won’t be ready for use until at least 2025 or 2030. SpaceX hasn’t yet successfully tested its system, but seems to be substantially ahead of the Airbus timeline. The United Launch Alliance of Boeing and Lockheed also is working on a partially reusable Vulcan launch system, but the vehicle doesn’t return on its own — the plan is to dispatch a helicopter to catch the falling engines in midair.