While the French and Germans continue to bicker over the final configuration of Ariane 6 even though it has been officially set, the European Space Agency is now looking beyond that rocket. Under a €1 million study the UK-based air-breathing rocket design firm, Reaction Engines Limited, has been asked by ESA to study its Skylon rocket plane design with a view to making it a full blown launch vehicle which could even usurp Ariane 6 from being needed at all.
According to Reaction Engines, the “Skylon-based European Launch Service Operator” contract has been finalised by the Launcher Directorate of the European Space Agency in Paris, France and work has started to study how the Skylon spaceplane can meet Europe’s Space access demands in terms of cost, flexibility and responsiveness, from the early 2020’s.
The study will be concluded by the end of the year, with input from a number of companies. ThalesAlenia Space in Italy will be designing the Skylon Upper Stage (SUS) systems for GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) satellite deployment; Qinetiq Space in Belgium are to study the various payload carriers within the vehicle’s payload bay to ensure maximum mission flexibility; London Economics are preparing the business model to independently assess economic case; Grafton Technology, based in the UK and supported by the civil engineering company, Jacobs, are studying the necessary spaceport facilities at Kourou for Skylon. Also supporting the study in the definition of the payload connections is 42 Technology Ltd, based in the UK.
The author of this article, David Todd, has a small financial interest in Reaction Engines Limited.