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Prometheus Test Campaign Moves Forward

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 21, 2021
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The Prometheus engine (Credits: ArianeGroup)

LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (CNES PR) — While the 1st copy of the engine of the future will soon be delivered, the 1st phase of demonstration tests is being prepared. The campaign will take place in 2 stages, in Vernon then at the P5 test bench in Lampoldshausen (Germany), refitted to accommodate Prometheus.

The development of Prometheus, the very low-cost engine that will power future European launchers, will experience decisive progress in the coming months. The 1st M1 copy of the engine, being finalized, will perform its 1st demonstration tests by the end of the year . The main installation where the Prometheus test campaigns are to take place is the P5. 

This installation located on the Lampoldshausen site of the DLR, the German space agency , used until now for the Vulcain engine, must indeed be adapted to methane propulsion. But without waiting for the end of the work, in February 2022, the 1st ignition tests will be carried out on the test platform of the demonstrator of the reusable Themis launcher, on the ArianeGroup site in Vernon. 

This preliminary phase will make it possible to derisk the future P5 campaign by identifying any anomalies, to test Prometheus in the Themis configuration, and also to anticipate part of the test plan planned for P5.

 Agility and speed are part of the philosophy of Prometheus, the goal has always been to pass the test phases as quickly as possible. Since the engine must equip Themis, there is a real interest in using synergy with Themis as a means of testing. This firing will ensure that the engine concept is relevant.

— Amaya Espinosa, Prometheus project manager

Demonstrate Engine Performance

The work plan for this 2-stroke test campaign provides at Vernon between 10 and 20 short ignitions (between 5 and 40 seconds) of the M1 engine, the duration being limited by the volume of the existing tanks on Themis. In Germany, the tests will focus on two engines, M1 and M2, with a longer burn time of 300 to 500 seconds. 

The objective will be to demonstrate that these technologically representative units meet Prometheus specifications in terms of performance, in particular that they are reusable and that the thrust is modular, i.e. capable of equipping vehicles future European launchers by 2030.

Illustration of Prometheus (Credits: CNES/Blackbear 2017)

“The tests also have the function of demonstrating the ability to implement ALM manufacturing or 3D printing on a maximum of engine parts,” explains Amaya Espinosa. 

At the end of this first phase, the program will be able to move forward with the manufacture of 4 additional engines, before a first flight demonstration which could take place by 2023. 

Did You Know?

Prometheus is a European Space Agency program  initiated by CNES. It aims to produce an innovative engine at very low cost, in the order of 1 million euros, which will equip future launchers from the 2030s. Among its specific features, Prometheus is powered by a combination of oxygen and of liquid methane, and will be reusable up to 5 times. Serial production of the engine will also use innovative technologies such as 3D printing.