A Look at Europe’s Reusable Themis Booster Project

Themis rocket in flight. (Credit: CNES)

CNES Program Description

With ArianeWorks, CNES and ArianeGroup have acquired an innovation accelerator that disrupts practices and frees energy. First project: the development of Themis, a prototype of a first stage of a reusable launcher.

Accelerate the pace of innovation and prepare the successor to Ariane 6 by 2030. This is the roadmap for ArianeWorks, a joint team set up by CNES and ArianeGroup in 2019 to embody their vision of the future.

This defines 2 main objectives: halve the cost of launches and greatly reduce their environmental impact. Original in its approach, the structure of 15 people reconciles the new innovation practices and agility specific to New Space with the production capacities and the more than 40 years of expertise of the two historical players to which it is backed. 

Today, we have to go faster, ArianeWorks brings this speed factor. We are working on the complex elements of this future Ariane to “debug” them, accelerate them, find funding to achieve them.

— Jérôme Vila, animator of ArianeWorks

The change of pace requires new working methods.  ArianeWorks innovates by freeing itself from the usual phasing of space programs. The agile development leads to realize almost simultaneously studies and raw material realization explains Jérôme Vila: ” We feed our experimentation and trials to advance by successive iterations on design. To consider operational use in 10 years, we need to de-risk development with a demonstration program that runs from 2020 to 2025.”

Themis rocket development road map. (Credit: CNES)

The team is now mobilizing as a priority on the 1st floor of the future launcher, whose characteristic will be to be low cost and reusable. As an extension of the Callisto experimental vehicle under development by CNES, the German DLR-Institut and the Japanese agency JAXA, ArianeWorks is producing a prototype. 

Themis, that’s its name, with a diameter of 3.5 m and 30 m high, will explore exactly the flight envelope of a 1st stage of a rocket. It will be powered by 3 Prometheus engines, the next-generation low-cost European engine also in preparation. 

A 1st elementary scale 1 model is already deployed on the historic PF20 test area of ​​Ariane 1, in Vernon, rehabilitated for the occasion. The engine filling and ignition tests will take place there until 2021, before a first phase of “hop tests”, low altitude flights carried out in Kiruna, Sweden. 

Then, Themis will reach the Guyanese Space Center  and the former Diamant launch pad, also used for Callisto, for high altitude launches reproducing complete flight profiles, with maneuvers to recover and reuse the prototype.

“The objective is to carry out as many tests as possible, to acquire knowledge of recovery by flights, while running this technology in advance before it is deployed on the next version of Ariane,” concludes Jerome Vila.

About ArianeWorks

Supported by CNES and ArianeGroup, ArianeWorks is an open initiative bringing together a maximum of energies to prepare future generations of Ariane. In a spirit of open or shared innovation, several research organizations and industrial partners have already come to strengthen the acceleration platform: Onera, the ADF group, SABCA, APCO and RUAG Space. ArianeWorks also involves the student community, through university programs such as PERSEUS (European university and scientific space research student project) launched by the CNES Launchers Department, or the “makers” ecosystem with the OPENSPACEMAKERS platform.