ESA Unveils Technologies for Future Launch Vehicles

Moving launch vehicle technology from ‘lab to launch’ (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA safeguards Europe’s guaranteed access to space through its Future Launchers Preparatory Programme, FLPP.

FLPP weighs up the opportunities and risks of different launch vehicle concepts and associated technologies.

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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.

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France & Germany Pursue Reusable Rocket Technology

In addition to the Prometheus reusable rocket engine program, European officials are pursuing a program named Callisto that aims to developing a reusable booster. SpaceNews reports:

The French and German space agencies (CNES and DLR, respectively) have for the past two years collaborated on a scaled-down rocket that would allow Europe to practice different aspects of recovery and reuse. Callisto’s first flight is planned for 2020.

Callisto officials said the goal of the program is not to create a new vehicle in 2020 — the Ariane 6 is scheduled to debut that same year — but to establish a base of knowledge for future launch vehicles that could, maybe, be reusable.

“Prometheus and Callisto are two key elements of our future launcher preparatory roadmap,” Jean-Marc Astorg, head of CNES’s Launch Vehicles Directorate, told SpaceNews. “Prometheus is a new engine to equip Ariane 6 evolutions or brand-new launchers, and Callisto is developed to learn about reusability in Europe, which we have not done before. We are lacking an experience by operation of recovering a vehicle and reflying it. This is exactly what we would like to do with Callisto.”

Around 1 to 2 percent of Ariane 6’s 3.6-billion-euro ($4.3 billion) development budget is spent on Callisto, Astorg said, describing it as a “modest approach.” Callisto is still in a preliminary design phase, he said, with a full decision on the realization of the demonstrator anticipated this June.

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ESA, ArianeGroup Sign Contract for Prometheus Engine Demonstrator

 

Prometheus rocket engine (Credit: ArianeGroup Holding)

PARIS, 14 December 2017 (ESA PR) — An ultra-low cost reusable rocket engine, Prometheus, using liquid oxygen–methane propellants, is set to power Europe’s future launchers.

Today, ESA and ArianeGroup signed a contract to develop a full-scale demonstrator to be ground tested in November 2020.

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ESA Signs Contracts to Improve Ariane 5, Vega Boosters

Vega launch vehicle (Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2015)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA Director of Space Transportation, Daniel Neuenschwander, signed five contracts with industry at the Paris Air and Space show in France this week.

“Five contracts, one goal: to consolidate space transportation services and capacities for the benefit of Europe’s competitiveness,” he commented.

Contracts signed with ELV SpA and Airbus Safran Launchers will improve launch performance and flexibility, and maintain the competitiveness of Europe’s current and future space transportation systems.

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ESA Gives Go Ahead for Low-cost Prometheus LOX-Methane Rocket Engine

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA has given Airbus Safran Launchers the go-ahead to start working on a full-scale prototype of an ultra-low cost engine demonstrator, Prometheus, using liquid oxygen–methane propellants.

The methane reusable engine precursor in the thrust class 1000 kN will be ground tested in 2020 for use on future versions of the European launcher family, after Ariane 6 and Vega-C. Next-generation launch vehicles require a factor 10 reduction in recurrent costs of propulsion systems compared to current cryogenic engines. New propellants, the systematic application of design-to-cost approach and innovative manufacturing technologies will also be applied.

The project can derive and provide significant synergies with other propulsion demonstration projects within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme, national agencies and industry.

French Prometheus Engine Program Receives ESA Funding

SpaceNews reports the French-funded Prometheus reusable rocket program will be receiving developing funding from ESA.

A small team of engineers from Airbus Safran Launchers and the French space agency CNES have poured a few million euros since 2015 into a liquid oxygen and-methane-fueled reusable engine dubbed Prometheus. ESA leaders agreed during December’s ministerial conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, to make Prometheus part of the agency’s Future Launchers Preparatory Program, or FLPP.

In an interview with SpaceNews, Airbus Safran Launchers CEO Alain Charmeau said FLPP is allocating 85 million euros ($91 million) to Prometheus to fund research and development leading to a 2020 test firing. Now that Prometheus is an ESA program, Charmeau expects more countries will get involved….

The target price for a Prometheus engine is 1 million euros, one-tenth the cost of the Ariane 6’s liquid-oxygen and liquid-hydrogen Vulcain 2.1 engine. The Prometheus program is making extensive use of new technologies and production methods, including 3-D printing, and a large amount of technical design work already completed in France and Germany, according to an Airbus Safran Launchers presentation.

Charmeau said the market dynamics that have dissuaded the company from reusability in the past are still the same, but the company wants to lay the foundation for long-term launcher development.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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ESA Approves 10.3 Billion Euro Budget; ISS Extended, ExoMars Funded

ESA logoMinisters from 22 ESA member countries approved a multi-year spending plan of €10.3 billion ($11 billion) for the European space agency, a reduction from the  €11 billion ($11.74 billion) that Director General Jan Dietrich Woerner had sought.

The budget includes an extension of the International Space Station to 2020 to 2024. ESA was the last of the international partners to approve the extension after the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada.

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France Wants European Support for New Rocket Engine

CNES_logoFrench space minister Thierry Mandon is seeking European support in developing a reusable, liquid-oxygen, liquid-methane engine called Promethee (Prometheus) designed to compete with SpaceX.

Mandon’s calling the propulsion system both Promethee, French for Prometheus, and Prometheus presages a French effort this December to persuade European Space Agency governments to fund the new propulsion system.

Jean-Marc Astorg, director of launchers at the French space agency, CNES, said during the Mandon briefing that 5-7 Prometheus engines could power the first stage of a future Ariane rocket, each costing 1 million euros ($1.13 million) apiece, compared to the 10-million-euro cost of the single Vulcain cryogenic engine that now powers the Ariane 5 first stage along with two solid-fueled strap-on boosters.

Vulcain is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The Ariane 6 rocket – designed to be one-half the cost of Ariane 5 – is on track to a 2020 launch. It will use a single Vulcain as well, with two or four solid-fueled boosters depending on mission requirements. Ariane 6’s second stage is powered by the Vinci engine, which is also fueled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

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Report: CCDev Competition Down to at Least 7 Companies

A Boeing CST-100 crew module docks at a Bigelow Aerospace space station. (Credit: Boeing)

Space News is reporting that the competition for $200 million in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) funding is down to at least seven companies:

  • ATK
  • Blue Origin
  • Boeing
  • Orbital Sciences Corporation
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation
  • Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)
  • United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Citing industry sources, the publication says that representatives from the companies were invited to Johnson Space Center in Houston earlier this month to discuss their proposals. NASA plans to award funds next month contingent on Congressional action on its budget.

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