Development and testing of low cost European rocket engine gets go-ahead

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The European Space Agency and the Ariane Group has agreed a €75m (US$88m) deal to design, manufacture and test the first two demonstrators of a low cost rocket engine called Prometheus.

The Prometheus demonstrator for a very low-cost reusable engine will run on liquid oxygen (LOx) and methane. The ESA plans for versions of Prometheus to power European launchers by 2030.

The French Space Agency (CNES) is leading in the early design process, and testing is scheduled on the P5 testbed of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Lampoldshausen, Germany, for 2020.

The aim of Prometheus is to develop the capability to build future liquid propellant engines with a unit cost of about €1m (US$.18m), or 10 times less than the cost of producing existing engines such as the Vulcain 2.

Ariane Group said that the success of this type of technological challenge demands an entirely new approach and the use of innovative design and production methods and tools.

Apart from switching from the traditional Ariane propellant of a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to a combination of liquid oxygen and methane, the demonstrator will entail other major engineering developments, such as the digitization of engine control and diagnostics, and manufacturing using 3D printing in a IoT-connected factory environment.

Following the initial phase which was completed in early December, the first program review confirmed the consistency of the design choices with engine specifications and in particular with the recurring cost targets. At the same time, subsystems testing has started with the gas generator campaign, one of the parts built using 3D printing on the DLR’s P8 test bed in Lampoldshausen.

Alain Charmeau, Ariane Group CEO, said, “The development of Ariane 6 is on track, with a first flight scheduled for 2020. This new Prometheus contract with the European Space Agency is paving the way for the future of European launchers, with the goal of designing and building a reusable engine for one tenth the cost of today’s Vulcain2 type engines.

“I therefore thank ESA and the member states for their contribution and their confidence in entrusting us with the development of the European technology of tomorrow.

The first part of the contract to develop Prometheus was signed in June 2017 at the Paris Air Show in France. The Ariane Group is the 50/50 joint venture set up by Airbus and Safran.

December 20, 2017

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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