We’ve watched SpaceX try (and fail and fail) a rocket on a drone barge. But Airbus has taken a different tack for a reusable rocket of its over for the past five years. The French company is building a system that makes the rocket itself more like a drone.
It’s called Adeline, and Airbus just offered a peek at how this next-gen rocket system will work. For now, Adeline exists as a neat idea and a bunch of computer renderings. Unlike the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket system — which returns to Earth after launch with some reserve fuel to land upright on a drone barge — Adeline will dump all stages except the rocket engine itself. As the winged rocket engine returns to Earth, it sprouts little propellors that guide it to a runway. Just like any old unmanned aerial vehicle!
Don’t expect to see Adeline land — or attempt to land — any time soon. Airbus says it will be ready between 2025 and 2030. In the meantime, the company is perfecting its Ariane 6 rocket. You probably didn’t even realise that the same company that makes A380s also makes rockets — and they’re pretty good rockets too.