Ariane Ultimate Project Looks Toward Launchers of 2040

Ariane Ultimate (Credit: CNES)

PARIS (CNES PR) — What will the launcher look like the day after tomorrow? It is far too early to tell, but CNES is already working to imagine the disruptive technologies that will make it fly.

In the field of launchers, you have to know how to look far ahead. While the qualification of Ariane 6 has entered its final phases, its successor Ariane Next is envisaged for the 2030s, and reflections for the post-2040 are well underway with the Ariane Ultimate project . At this stage, it is still only a concept, that is to say a pool of new technologies which are in an embryonic state but which we want to make mature by this time, in order to develop a launcher that must be carbon neutral, fully reusable and at almost zero marginal launch cost. It is also a question of projecting on the new uses of space in the coming decades as we can imagine them on this horizon: for example the need for high speeds to reach the low orbits which could serve as hubs of exchange towards the Moon or towards Mars. 

Ariane Ultimate will represent a departure from previous generations of launchers. It is about finding the ideas and technologies to meet these objectives and these future uses.

Nathalie Girard, advanced concepts project manager at CNES

New Materials, New Propulsion

Among the first avenues explored for Ariane Ultimate is the hypothesis of total reuse and the development of a single stage to orbit launcher

. “Cheaper, simpler, more efficient, easier to recover: this type of single-stage launcher would be the holy grail! However, it is not currently possible, especially because the materials we use are too heavy. We must therefore find a way to lighten the structures,” explains Nathalie Girard.

Initial research is therefore oriented towards the development of new, lighter and extremely resistant materials such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, or architectural materials made possible by 3D manufacturing. Another avenue is to work on propulsion, with new high energy density propellants which would make it possible to drastically reduce the mass and the cost on the launcher. Ariane Ultimate finally incorporates reflections on avionics and software that will benefit from emerging technological advances, such as “many cores” processors or the quantum computer. 

Did You Know?

Ariane Ultimate is an initiative led by CNES as part of the preparation for the future. The various works are carried out on the basis of Research & Technology programs, carried out in partnership with leading laboratories in their field (HCEP Laboratory in Lyon, PIMM Laboratory at CNAM Paris, etc.). To unite the space community by integrating new scientific and industrial partners, CNES is launching in 2021 a call for contributions through the R&D Challenge on technological breakthroughs.