We have been hearing a lot recently about Space X, Blue Origin, XCOR companies. These names are at the forefront of this « new space » pole that has been created in California and is revolutionizing the space sector in the US. In stark contrast with the past, these new space champions are developing rockets and associated technologies with a mix of public and private money coming from dotcom billionaires (like Elon Musk for Space X or Jeff Bezos for Blue Origin) and venture capitalists more and more prone to invest in space (Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund). In addition, these companies are highly innovative:
- Space X is investigating and testing full first stage reusability for its Falcon 9 rocket (see infographic)
Space X first reusable stage
- Blue Origin is developing a Lox/CH4 engine to replace RD-180 in Atlas V (240T thrust).
- XCOR is working in suborbital reusable spacecraft.
Suborbital reusable spacecraft
Finally, they are bringing a start-up dynamic and « can do » attitude in a sector governed by blue chip companies with significantly more inertia. Overall, these companies are at the origin of the space push in the US and a factor explaining the widening gap between US and Europe. In order for this gap to be reabsorbed, ESA and most important European agencies (CNES, DLR) to invest in and develop a « new space » equivalent in Europe via
- Seed funding in start-ups focusing on technology bricks (privatge venture capital sector in Europe is not mature at present)
- Development of demonstrator logic as CNES has been doing in the past via its « Programme d’Investissements d’Avenir » program.
Now, how to do this? Here some ideas
- Allocate xxM€ (25 for (~10-20?) to create a specific space frontier fund to support space technology company creation
- Allocate 50-100M€/year in demonstrators focusing in flight validation of key technology bricks (e.g. first stage reusability, innovative materials, new avionics suite)