In 2030, European launcher engines will look quite different than they do today. That’s the goal, anyway, and the development of the Prometheus demonstrator engine is a good start. Prometheus is an engine for the technological era, utilizing 3D printing and digital engine control and diagnostics, and it’s a demonstrator for future engines that will cost only about €1 million to manufacture – about 10 times less than current launcher engines. Bringing down the cost involves not only 3D printing and other digital technologies but a switch from traditional liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant to liquid oxygen and methane.
The development of Prometheus is a joint project between the ESA and ArianeGroup, which just signed a new contract for €75 million. The contract covers the design, manufacturing and testing of the first two examples of the Prometheus demonstrator. The contract was signed by Daniel Neuenschwander, Director of Space Transportation at the ESA, and Alain Charmeau, CEO of ArianeGroup.
French space agency CNES is leading the early design process of the demonstrator engine, and testing is scheduled on the P5 test bed of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in 2020. Everything is going according to schedule, says the Prometheus team:
The initial phase was completed in early December, and the first program review confirmed that the design choices were consistent with engine specifications and recurring cost targets. Subsystems testing has also started with the gas generator campaign, which is being 3D printed, on the DLR’s P8 test bed.
“The development of Ariane 6 is ontrack, 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 Vulcain 2 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.”
“Prometheus will power Europe’s future launchers, forging a path of continuous improvement in competitiveness,” said Neuenschwander.
3D printing parts of the engine allows it to be created faster, less expensively, and with fewer parts. Meanwhile, using methane as a propellant brings down costs because it is widely available and highly efficient. It allows for standardization and operational simplicity, making it ideal for a reusable booster engine demonstration. It’s expected that by 2020, technical knowledge of liquid oxygen-methane propulsion obtained through the Prometheus project will allow for fast and informed decisions to be made on its applications and use.
Prometheus provides 1 MN of variable thrust and is suitable for first- and second-stage applications. It’s also reignitable and reusable, which will greatly reduce the cost of launching rockets.
The new contract was signed at the ESA headquarters in Paris, in the presence of ESA Director General Jan Wörner.
“This contract paves the way for the future of Europe’s space transportation, and the development of European propulsion technology of tomorrow,” said Charmeau.
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