CNES projects library

May 11, 2020


Callisto is a fully reusable 15-metre-high launch vehicle scheduled to make its first test flight from the Guiana Space Centre in late 2022, climbing to an altitude of 30 to 40 km and then returning to Earth.

Reusability—launching a vehicle, bringing it back to Earth and then sending it into space again—is one possible way of reducing the cost of space launch. This is the path being explored by U.S. launch providers SpaceX and Blue Origin. CNES has been working on reusability concepts since the 1980s, but none has resulted in a real-world demonstration. To fill this gap, the agency has therefore decided to launch a small, fully reusable spacecraft called Callisto with international partners.

Standing 15 metres tall and with a diameter of one metre, Callisto will be powered by a reusable cryogenic engine running on hydrogen and oxygen. It is not intended to become an operational launcher, but is rather a demonstrator designed to conduct flight testing and mature the complex technologies required to return a launcher to Earth, as well as refurbishment operations between flights, and to precisely cost an operational European launcher with a reusable first stage.

Standing for “Cooperative Action Leading to Launcher Innovation in Stage Toss-back Operations”, Callisto is a project pursued since November 2015 in partnership whiteh de Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the German space agency (DLR). CNES is in charge of architecture studies for the launch system, vehicle system and ground systems. A large number of international contractors are contributing to the experiment. The first test flight will be followed by a series of 10 flights in 2023.