The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, "tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe".
The RETALT project's goals involve copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships.
The Falcon 9 rocket's ability to land and fly again is "currently dominating the global market. We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe".
European space firms have previously said that reuse is not a viable option for a continent that only launches five to 10 rockets a year. Instead, the European strategy has been to try to reduce the costs of its flagship Ariane and Vega launchers.
The RETALT project appears to have indicated European acceptance of the inevitability of reusable launch vehicles. Engineers will work toward two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that will make use of seven modified Vulcain 2 rocket engines and have the capacity to lift up to 30 tons to low-Earth orbit. The second will be a more revolutionary single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that looks like the Roton rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago.
"What is state-of-the-art in the USA is only in its beginnings in Europe. The consortium is determined to accept the challenge and to become important players in this game-changing technology", the RETALT press release said.
Meanwhile, Post Brexit, the UK will have to dust of its Blue Streak programme, which was abandoned because it was a "bit crap".