ESA to test its Themis reusable rocket stage prototype from 2023

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded the ArianeGroup a contract worth €33 million for the first phase development of the Themis demonstrator – a reusable rocket stage that is functionally similar to the SpaceX Falcon 9 model.

This first phase of the Themis involves preparing 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 will be powered by Prometheus, ESA’s highly versatile engine capable of providing 1000 kN of variable thrust and is re-ignitable, which makes it suitable for core, booster, and upper stage application. 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.

Prometheus to power future launch vehicles.
Prometheus to power future launch vehicles. Credit: ESA

Besides, an onboard computer handles engine management and monitoring in real-time – a crucial feature for reusability.

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,” said André-Hubert Roussel, CEO at ArianeGroup.

The project, which ArianeGroup was entrusted with developing, aims to demonstrate Europe’s technical capabilities in the field of reusability. Suborbital flight tests are already scheduled for 2023 at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

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