DLR Lampoldshausen Makes the P5 Test Stand Fit for the Engine Technologies of the Future

Installation of the methane tank in the ESA test stand P5. [Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]
  • The DLR is strengthening and modernizing its test infrastructure at the Lampoldshausen site with the renovation and expansion of the ESA large test bench P5.
  • The installation of a methane tank is an important milestone.
  • This means that tests of rocket propulsion systems with the fuel combination of liquid oxygen and methane will also be possible in the future.
  • The commissioning of the converted ESA test bench P5 is planned for 2022.

LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (DLR PR) — The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is making a central component of its extensive test infrastructure fit for the future: It expands the ESA large test bench P5 at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen. In this way, the next generation of space propulsion systems can also be tested flexibly and reliably.

The 65 meter high building of the ESA test bench P5 towers over the DLR site. Inside, there has been unique high-tech since it was commissioned in 1990. He has long since earned his merits and played a central role in the development of the Vulcain engines for the European Ariane 5 and 6 launch vehicles. It was only recently that DLR engineers used it to qualify Ariane 6’s advanced Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine for flight.

Ready for new fuel combinations – including methane

Methane tank hovers over the DLR site in Lampoldshausen. [Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]

Now a DLR team is preparing the ESA test bench P5 for its new task. The installation of a methane tank is an important milestone in the extensive construction work. The tank is 20 meters high, 4.6 meters in diameter and holds around 208 cubic meters of liquid methane. From 2022, a completely new generation of engines will be tested on the P5: the one developed and manufactured by ArianeGroup Prometheus engine. It is an integral part of a future European launcher. A combination of liquid oxygen (LOX, liquid oxygen) and liquid methane (LCH4) is used as fuel. By bundling several Prometheus engines in the first stage, enough thrust is generated to be able to dispense with the additional solid rockets previously used during take-off.

The future in focus: more flexible and efficient testing – including new generations of engines

After conversion and expansion, the ESA P5 large-scale test bench is one of the most modern and flexible test systems of its kind. “The installation of the methane tank is an important step in this process. I am excited to see this test infrastructure, which is strategically important for Europe, complete and ready for testing as soon as possible, ”says Prof. Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of the DLR Institute for Space Propulsion. The converted and expanded test bench enables multiple fuel combinations to be tested and quickly switched between them. Experiments can be carried out with the traditional combination of liquid oxygen and hydrogen as well as with the combination of liquid oxygen and methane. “We are thus expanding our test capabilities and maintaining the flexible use of the test benches,” explains Stefan Schlechtriem.

Tomorrow’s space propulsion systems: more diversity, new fuels and technologies

Every successful launcher needs powerful and reliable propulsion systems to get into space. In a future European launcher, this will be the Prometheus engine. It should be reusable and its production costs should decrease significantly in the long term. To achieve this, the development teams use innovative approaches: These include 3D printing processes, digital engine control with artificial intelligence and the new fuel combination mentioned above. The investment in the development of the Prometheus engine will ensure safe and inexpensive European access to space in the future, especially after the Ariane 6 has been in service.