A recovery system for the key components of the first stage of a heavy launch vehicle

Casper Dek, Jean Luc Overkamp, Akke Toeter, Tom Hoppenbrouwer, Jasper Slimmens, Job van Zijl, Pietro Areso Rossi, Ricardo Machado, Sjef Hereijgers, Veli Kilic, Marc Naeije*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
92 Downloads (Pure)


In recent years, the space market has been pushing towards decreasing costs of launching spacecraft by reusing parts of the launchers. The purpose of this article is to present a feasibility study of a recovery system for the engine and engine frame of an existing, expendable heavy launch vehicle and present recommendations for further research. The concept developed is verified based on the Ariane 6. The recovery of the Vulcain Aft Bay (VuAB) is initialised by separation from the first stage at 157.7 km altitude while travelling at 6930 m/s. The study investigates an inflatable aeroshell for protection and deceleration during re-entry, after which it is proposed to further decelerate the VuAB using drogue parachutes. The final part of the concept entails retrieval of the VuAB by a helicopter in mid-air. To enable a controlled gliding flight during retrieval a parafoil is proposed. At launch, the recovery system will weigh 2789 kg with a payload penalty of 720 kg. The system can be integrated into the existing design of the launcher and will not interfere with nominal operations of the launcher. Implementing the recovery system can reduce the cost per launch of an Ariane 6 by 15%

Original languageEnglish
Article number105778
Number of pages9
JournalAerospace Science and Technology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Ablator
  • Controllable parafoil
  • First stage recovery
  • Inflatable heat shield
  • Mid-air recovery
  • Reusability


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