It has become clear that the best way to keep space travel costs down is to invest significantly in reusable technology. Now, after successful demonstrations from all over the world, Europe is throwing its hat into the ring.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has funded the testing of a Liquid-Propulsion Stage Recovery system that will be constructed by PLD Space, a start-up from the University Miguel Hernández de Elche’s Science Park. ESA has put forward $780,000 for ground and flight testing.
PLD Space has a tight schedule to keep as the founders are aiming to make its first space launch in 2018. If the project is successful, this will be the first European-designed completely reusable commercial rocket.
“This project is the beginning of ESA support for our company and small commercial launcher technologies,” said CEO Raúl Torres in a statement. “PLD Space rockets will meet the launch needs of the small satellite market, valued at over seven billion dollars in 2020.”
The last few years have seen significant breakthroughs when it comes to reusable space vehicles. Elon Musk’s SpaceX was able to land several rockets, both on land and on autonomous barges, and Blue Origin successfully tested its crew escape system. Reusable technologies are seen as the only option to reduce the high prices of sending cargo and travelers to space.
“We are positioning ourselves within Europe as the go-to provider for the commercial space launchers of the future,” added Raúl Verdú, the technology director of PLD Space. “The American company SpaceX achieved what it did with 4,000 engineers, at Blue Origin the team is now 500 strong, while PLD Space hopes to employ just over 100 engineers by 2020.”
The company is currently working on its next phase. It will open a new manufacturing facility, where the rocket and two new test stands can be assembled. The first step is to perform several ground tests to achieve the necessary reliability to produce a successful launch.