International competition for launch systems is intense and unprecedented. Europe is facing the rise of new powers on the market, particularly in the United States, with launchers with a first stage that can be reused to drastically reduce launch costs. The first successes with Elon Musk’s Facon 9 demonstrate the feasibility of this approach.

The MINI-APTERROS (Advanced Propulsion TEchnology for Reusable Rocket Operating System) project, part of the PERSEUS program, aims to investigate new technologies for the vertical landing of a rocket.

Since 2017, Arts et Métiers Bordeaux has been working on a first-stage demonstrator of a vertical landing launcher, with reduced scale (less than 10 kg) and electric propulsion (maximum power of 15 kW). The objective is to achieve an autonomous flight, with a vertical climb to 1 m, a horizontal flight in level flight over 3 m and a vertical landing.

Inspired by the world of robotics and drones, as well as Silicon Valley’s open source developments on Machine Learning, the students and their teachers chose to study the possibility of piloting and guiding the demonstrator with neural networks.

The idea is encouraged by the CNES, which awarded ENSAM and the University of Bordeaux the PERSEUS 2019 Innovation Prize, and financially supports their work within the framework of an annual convention.

The objectives in the coming years are to:

  • Pursue the development of the system step by step, in simulation and experimentally, capitalizing on the advances that will be made.
  • Begin to identify elements of an answer to the question on the interest and viability of deep-learning rocket guidance piloting, particularly during the landing phase.