ESA reveals technologies for future launch vehicles

Stephen Kuper

The European Space Agency (ESA) safeguards Europe’s guaranteed access to space through its Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP).

FLPP weighs up the opportunities and risks of different launch vehicle concepts and associated technologies. Its demonstrators and studies hone emerging technologies to give Europe's rocket builders a valuable head-start as they begin the demanding work of turning the chosen design into reality.

Based on a standardised scale of “technology readiness levels” or TRL, technologies that have been demonstrated in a laboratory environment at level three are further developed within FLPP and tested via integrated demonstrators to raise them to TRL six.

Once a technology has reached level six, much of the risk linked to using a new technology in a space environment has been mitigated. It can be quickly transferred to a development up to flight (TRL nine) with optimised cost and schedule.

FLPP defines the concepts and requirements for new space transportation systems and services. Technologies are selected on their potential to reduce cost, improve performance, improve reliability, or on their ability to fulfil the specific needs of an identified system, demonstrator or mission.

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Within the program, integrated demonstrators are built by combining multiple technologies into one system or subsystem so that industry can use the technology with confidence.

Future space transportation services and systems are assessed on their competitiveness and economic viability.

ESA’s objective is to develop a robust and flexible space transportation ecosystem that serves European needs. To achieve this, ESA brings together its various programs and business units, Europe's launch service provider, and industry such as spacecraft manufacturers and innovative start-ups.

FLPP projects cover fields such as propulsion, materials, reusability, production methods and avionics.

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