Airbus' Adeline jumps on the reusability rocket

Claimed to be already five years in the making, Airbus just revealed its own take on the idea of a reusable rocket that its chief rival in the space, SpaceX, has been preaching for years. Called Adeline, which is a more memorable form of its "Advanced Expendable Launcher with Innovative engine Economy" name, the rocket aims to address the weaknesses in SpaceX's implementation. In particular, instead of focusing on returning the full first stage of the rocket like SpaceX does, Adeline prioritizes the most important and most valuable part of that stage: the engine and avionics.

Reusable rockets are the way to make space travel more economical and widespread. At least that's the working theory. Given no one has perfected that yet, it's too early to have definite figures, but Airbus estimates a 20 to 30 percent saving in launch costs. So far, SpaceX and its Falcon 9 have taken the spotlight in terms of media coverage. To show that Europe and not just the US has the capability to develop a similar, if not better, rocket, Airbus finally made some noise about its top secret Adeline rocket, coinciding it with the Paris Air Show this month.

Both Airbus and SpaceX agree on somethings aside from the overall goal. They both agree that a reusable upper stage is impractical and the most benefits would be reaped by focusing on the first stage instead. Airbus, however, narrows that down further to the propulsion system, which it posits has 80 percent of the stage's economic value. It might then pay more to ensure that this part lands safely back to earth.

Airbus is also doing that last bit differently. It aims for a horizontal landing instead of the vertical one that SpaceX has so far been testing. On re-entry, the propulsion bay separates from the rest of the first stage and utilizes its winglets and two rotary turbofan motors to guide it safely back down to a landing strip. Those fans require very small fuel to operate, which lessens the required total amount of fuel for both launch and return.

That said, Adeline isn't Airbus' top priority right now. It is taking a backseat to the development of Ariane 6, an expendable rocket due in 2020. Ariane 6 is also Airbus', and Europe's, direct rival to the American SpaceX. Only after Ariane 6 is done will Adeline become the company's one and only focus, though by then, SpaceX might have already made strides in that department.

SOURCE: SpaceNews