The ICARUS consortium – formed to develop inflatable heat shields to recover rocket stages from space and prepare for Mars missions – has received €15 million of EU funding.

The consortium is led by Spain’s Deimos includes among others partners such as Germany’s Atmos, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), and official space research centres from Italy (CIRA) and France (ONERA).

If successful, the system could also protect precious cargo during re-entry and descent to Earth and could eventually be used for Mars missions.

ICARUS (“Inflatable Concept Aeroshell for the Recovery of a re-Usable launcher Stage”) has received €10 million worth of funding by the European Commission (EC) under the Horizon Europe programme.

During the first phase, the consortium will complete the mission and system design along with on-the-ground maturation of key technologies. During the second phase, it will carry out a flight test on board a sounding rocket with a meaningful-scale demonstrator of an IHS in hypersonic conditions. When inside the rocket, the IHS demonstrator will have an approximate diameter of 50cm and when inflated the shield will measure about 3m diameter. Depending on the application, a commercial full scale version could have a diameter of 10m diameter when inflated.

The third phase consists of post-flight analysis of data and information collected during the mission: this will allow engineers to understand the behaviour of the spacecraft, to evaluate the performance of the technologies on board of it, and to verify the capabilities of the simulation models to predict both.

The kick-off for the ICARUS project, estimated to take about four years in total, is planned for June 2024 and a demonstrator test date envisaged for 2028.

Simone Centuori, CEO of Deimos, said: “This is one of the most innovative projects of the decade encompassing a group of first-rate research organisations and companies. From EFESTO-1 to ICARUS, the development period is covering a total of nine years and €15 million of funding. ICARUS’ is a key technological enabler for Europe, which will revolutionise European re-entry technologies, supporting applications like recovering rocket stages and hypersonic entry on Mars.”