Prometheus: Testing of the Future LOX-Methane Engine Demonstrator Begins

Prometheus rocket engine (Credit: ArianeGroup Holding)
  • Prometheus is a very low cost and potentially reusable European engine demonstrator intended for use by Europe’s launchers by 2030
  • Testing of the 3D-printed gas generator is under way at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen, Germany
  • The engine’s Design Review began on 30 November at the Vernon and Ottobrunn sites and is scheduled to close in January 2019

LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (ArianeGroup PR) — Exactly one year after the signing of the Prometheus demonstrator development contract between the European Space Agency (ESA) and ArianeGroup, testing of the 3D-printed gas generator has started at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen, Germany.

Prometheus is a European demonstrator for a very low cost reusable engine operating on liquid oxygen (LOx) and methane. It is the precursor of the future engines for Europe’s launchers by 2030.

The aim is to be able to produce future liquid propellant engines at a unit cost which is 10 times less than the cost of building the Vulcain®2 type engine today. The success of a technological challenge of this nature rests on a completely new design and the use of innovative methods and resources in both design and production.

In addition to a change in the traditional Ariane propellants (i.e., the transition from a liquid oxygen and hydrogen to a liquid oxygen and methane), the demonstrator will incorporate a number of key changes, including digitized control and engine diagnostics, as well as construction using 3D printing, in a connected factory environment.

“The success of the gas generator campaign as well as, compliance with the scheduled Prometheus design review date, is excellent news for the development of the European technologies of tomorrow and the future of Europe’s launchers. It is vital to demonstrate the pertinence of our technological choices, less than a year before the ESA Ministerial Conference which will decide the evolution of Ariane 6,” said Alain Charmeau, CEO of ArianeGroup.

The next major steps of the program are the completion of the subsystem tests and the start of production of the two demonstrators in the first half of 2019. Testing of the first two examples of this Precursor is scheduled on the P5 test stand at the DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt) in Lampoldshausen, starting in 2020.

Prometheus is an ESA program, initiated with the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in November 2015.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    As a Methane/Lox engine this is a rival to the Project Morpheus main engine and the Broadsword engine from Masten Spaces.

  • redneck

    Intended for use by 2030. They seem to think the launch competition will be stagnant for over a decade. I believe that may have been a valid concept up until a few years ago. Now it looks like cancellation bait a few years from now.

  • windbourne

    Actually, if SX is up to what everybody thinks ( building rockets for launching around the globe ), this engine could compete on a reusable launcher launch system.

  • redneck

    In competition with what SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others will have by then?

  • duheagle

    I think your calculation includes an underpants gnome somewhere.

    On the plus side of the ledger:

    Prometheus is to have a bit more thrust than Merlin and a better Isp because it burns methane.

    On the minus side of the ledger:

    Prometheus will be coming way late to the methane party. By 2030, SpaceX and Blue Origin – and maybe even ULA, should it survive – will have a decade of experience operating methalox-powered booster stages.

    Prometheus is a gas generator cycle engine like Merlin. In 2030, its competitors will all be flying staged-combusrtion methalox engines with a decade of refinements and upgrades behind them.

    Prometheus’s cost target is 1 million Euros/unit. That’s a minimum of 1.5 times what a Merlin costs SpaceX right now.

    Prometheus’s goal calls for four of five reuses per unit. Merlin has already demonstrated three operational reuses. By the end of 2019 it may well have demonstrated seven to ten.

    redneck is right. The Europeans are aiming at roughly where the U.S. is today, not where it’s going to be more than a decade hence.

    If Europe wants to still be a significant player in space by 2030 it should put the Luxembourgers in charge of its program. Luxembourg is the only European country with a demonstrated ability to think big and long-term about space.

  • duheagle

    Quite a bit larger than either of those. Prometheus is to have 8 or 9 times the thrust of Broadsword and more than 40 times the thrust of the Morpheus engine.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Which suggests that Prometheus is a first stage engine.

  • Michael Halpern

    Actually if we go on full duration burns, Merlin has had more than 6 lets see there’s a full duration on its own, assembled on a first stage at McGregar, between each flight so thats 7, plus partial duration burns as static fire at the pad…

  • Michael Halpern

    because it is primarily a first stage engine, its a methalox Merlin essentially in how they plan to use it, and its combustion cycle

  • Kenneth_Brown

    As a percentage of launcher cost, will the use of 3D printing significantly lower the price? I’m not convinced. Some parts are great candidates for 3D printing, but many others can still be made from better materials using traditional methods faster and for less. Part of the problem is the production rate. I’m not a fan of SpaceX, but they did get the right idea by going with multiple smaller motors rather than just a couple of really big ones. The part sizes are closer to more mainstream CNC machinery and they can be made in steady production rather than in batches that might only be done once a year or longer.

    A big 3D printed part also suffers from an all or nothing approach. With a motor made from sub-assemblies, if a problem is found or there is an improvement made, updated parts can be substituted.

  • windbourne

    No. I am sure that all of these groups will be way ahead . In fact, I think that Boeing will also be behind.
    BUT, you have to start someplace. If airbus can at least get a reusable rocket in 10 years, they may finally start jumping through the hoops.
    Look at commercial jet travel from 50s onward. Rockets are finally following the same path.

  • windbourne

    Right now, the world is way behind SX. SX took 15 years to build a manufacturing company, that is way ahead of all others, as well as build a reusable rocket. At this time, the shortest time it will take to accomplish what falcons are, is 3-5 years and that is only BO. Nearly all others will be 6-10 years( assuming that SX tech is not stolen; I would not be surprised to see china have falcon competitor in 2-3 years ). At that point, they can compete with falcon for launching sats.

    But yes, bfr will be long past, and will be focused on launching ppl and massive cargo. Not simply launching sats. But I suspect that SX will still have F9 to launch singular sats.

  • windbourne

    Huh? 3d printing does not mean you print EVERYTHING. You can, and likely will, still print parts. As to subassemblies, if they make sense to print as 1 part, then it will happen. And if a new better part comes along, it will be substituted.