IAC 2022 Paris: ArianeGroup introduces reusable upper-stage concept SUSIE

by | Sep 20, 2022 | commercial launch services, Technology

ArianeGroup unveiled SUSIE, its reusable Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration, on the first day of the International Space Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris, France. The new concept design is a combined spacecraft and reusable upper stage, which Ariane envisages will be used to carry cargo or a crew to low Earth orbit (LEO) before returning back to Earth via a propulsive vertical landing.

ArianeGroup’s Joost Van Tooren, Marco Prampolini and Morena Bernardini pose next to a model Ariane 6 with SUSIE attached at IAC 2022 hosted in Paris, France. Courtesy: Seradata/Farah Ghouri.

At 12 metres long with a diameter of five metres, SUSIE is designed to be spacious enough to accommodate up to five astronauts or 40 m3 of cargo. At 7,000 kg, its payload capacity is also sizeable. The upper stage, which replaces the launcher fairing, will be built for a wide range of missions from delivering resources to space stations and upgrading satellites, to facilitating in-orbit activities including crew changeovers. SUSIE will be launched by the first-stage/boosters plus second-stage combination of the standard Ariane 6 which, the group said, would not require any modifications for the automated freighter version of the rocket.

Artist’s impression showing deployment of SUSIE by injection stage. Courtesy: ArianeGroup

For human flights some minor changes to the launcher and ground segment would be needed (Ariane 5 was originally designed to carry humans via the stalled Hermes mini-shuttle concept). The French company revealed longer-term and more ambitious plans. Most notably, SUSIE spacecraft/stage could be matched with a more powerful reusable first stage to make a nearly fully reusable rocket system (an orbital injection stage may still be needed). In effect, this nearly copies the fully reusable SpaceX Superbooster/Starship heavy-lift design albeit in a smaller launch vehicle. There are also hopes that SUSIE could eventually be used for journeys to the Moon with the addition of a space transfer module, which would give it the propulsion, energy and air supply to allow the rocket to reach lunar orbit.

A video showing ArianeGroup’s new concept SUSIE is played for an audience at IAC 2022. Courtesy: Seradata/Farah Ghouri

Before SUSIE’s development can begin, ArianeGroup needs the approval of member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) at a ministerial level council meeting taking place later this year. The reusable upper stage has been designed with Europe’s space exploration ambitions in mind. Morena Bernardini, ArianeGroup’s strategy and innovation lead, said Susie was “capable of contributing to independent access to space, and also to open the door to European space exploration and address commercial and institutional needs for services in space over the coming decades.”

This story was written by Farah Ghouri in Paris with additional material from David Todd in London

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