At the International Astronautical Congress in Paris this week,
ArianeGroup revealed a proposal
for a Smart Upper Stage for Innovative Exploration, or "Susie"
vehicle. Susie is an entirely reusable rocket upper stage project that
replaces the payload fairing on a launch vehicle like their Ariane 64 rocket
and presumably its successors. Susie adds additional power to the upper
stage of the launch vehicle — engines and fuel — and will be capable of
carrying out many different types of missions before returning to land on
Earth. Further, they specifically mention crewed and uncrewed missions. (H/T Rocket Report)
Ariane 64 topped with a Susie upper stage. Screen capture from the animated video at that link, above.
Back in 2019, ArianeGroup announced a new reusable booster called Themis and largely copied from the Falcon 9 (Ariane rendered video here). I find no record of it having been test flown, but three years isn't much in rocket development. Nevertheless, it raises the possibility of totally reusable systems - or two out of three stages being reusable.
Missions made possible by Susie include towing, inspecting and upgrading satellites and other payloads, and supplying fuel, food, and equipment to space stations. It will also be able to carry out crew changeovers and facilitate human in-orbit activities. There was no estimate of the costs, which likely would be in the billions of euros over many years if ArianeGroup won such a contract.
You might recall that in February of this year, a group of European Astronauts issued a manifesto calling for a manned space program from the EU. Will that happen? Will the European Union survive long enough to do any of these things, from Themis to Susie? We can start a poll or gambling pool, but it's probably not worth the time.