Rendering of MaiaSpace's future launcher. Credits: MaiaSpace

The Future of European Space: MaiaSpace’s Reusable Launcher Technology

A full-scale prototype of MaiaSpace’s upper stage underwent new cryogenic filling tests and liquid methane fillings in the test area

MaiaSpace’s new launcher technology relies on the reusable Prometheus engines fueled with liquid oxygen and liquid bio-methane. For this reason, a couple of weeks ago, the full-scale prototype of Maia’s upper stage was subjected to filling tests in the test area.

MaiaSpace test zone. Credits: MaiaSpace
Maia’s upper stage at the test area. Credits: MaiaSpace

Cryogenic filling and liquid propellant filling tests are critical procedures in the preparation and launch of rockets. These processes involve handling and transferring extremely cold liquids and highly reactive chemicals into the rocket’s tanks, ensuring proper temperature and pressure conditions, and conducting comprehensive tests to confirm the system’s readiness for launch.

It’s fundamental to spot valve malfunctions and leakages, weaknesses in the tanks, and validate the rocket stage’s structural integrity. Understanding and executing these procedures correctly is crucial for the successful launch and operation of rockets.


The choice of methane

The company revealed three reasons behind the choice of liquid methane as rocket propellant.

To achieve the goal of a completely reusable rocket a compromise between extreme performance and robustness is key. Liquid hydrogen is associated with extreme performance because of its high specific impulse, high energy density, and low mass while kerosene is linked to robustness due to its stable and manageable physical properties. Liquid methane sits right in the middle of them, balancing both parameters, making it the perfect candidate for the job.

The second reason lies in the complexity of storing methane, which is easier relative to the safety requirements of liquid hydrogen, which is much less dense, and surely more tricky. 

Rendering of MaiaSpace's future launcher. Credits: MaiaSpace
Rendering of MaiaSpace’s future launcher. Credits: MaiaSpace

Lastly, when produced locally, i.e. in French Guiana where the Maia rocket will lift off, from mainly organic waste and crops, bio-methane is one of the rocket propellants with the lowest environmental impacts. In addition, methane-based propellant is expected to cut black carbon emissions compared to kerosene-fuelled rockets, in proportions that remain to be characterized. Black carbon is an environmentally concerning particle especially when emitted in the upper layers of the atmosphere.

MaiaSpace and ONERA – The French Aerospace Lab have initiated and co-funded a PhD thesis project aimed at carefully quantifying such emissions.


A new entry to bring reusability to Europe

Rendering of MaiaSpace's first stage during recovery. Credits: MaiaSpace
Rendering of MaiaSpace’s first stage during recovery. Credits: MaiaSpace

MaiaSpace is a start-up born in 2022 leveraging the heritage of  ArianeWorks, a tactical development team assigned by CNES and ArianeGroup to reinvent and transform the European space industry. The company was born from the need to make the European space industry more independent since it relies heavily on SpaceX launchers at the moment.

Falcon-9’s launch frequency, affordability, and reliability are unprecedented, yet Europe needs to secure a diversified pool of launchers to access space in the next years to ensure it’s not left out of an important market from an economical, political, and strategic point of view.

MaiaSpace's Prometheus Engine. Credits: MaiaSpace
MaiaSpace’s Prometheus Engine. Credits: MaiaSpace

MaiaSpace comes into play intending to successfully design, test, and commercialize a cost-effective and reusable mini-launch vehicle by 2026. The project foresees a completely reusable first stage and a final kick-stage, called Colibri, to deploy multiple satellites into orbit. They will be both propelled by a next-generation European engine: Prometheus, manufactured by ArianeGroup and fuelled by liquid bio-methane and liquid oxygen.


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Luca Mastrorilli

Luca Mastrorilli

Bachelor's student at Polimi, a saxophone player in my free time, passionate about the aerospace sector.

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