The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking ahead and beyond the ‘next generation’ Ariane 6 family of rockets and has awarded contracts worth in total $182 million to prime contractor ArianeGroup in order for new cryogenic engines to be developed.
While ArianeGroup will coordinate activity there is also business for OHB-backed MT Aerospace as well as the German Aerospace Center/DLR. The aim, says ESA, is to advance two flagship space transportation projects: the powerful Prometheus engine and Phoebus rocket upper stage.
ESA says: “The signing of these contacts represents an important milestone in development for both projects which will now focus on key technologies and processes defined so far in the lead up to valuable demonstrations.”
The contracts are valued at €135 million for Prometheus and €14.6 million for the Phoebus element.
“To secure Europe’s autonomous access to space at affordable costs, ESA is engaging resolutely in the development of new technologies required for future space transportation solutions. The Prometheus reusable engine and the Phoebus upper stage are excellent examples of this,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander (ESA Director of Space Transportation).
Prometheus is an ultra-low cost reusable rocket engine demonstrator fuelled by liquid methane. It is highly versatile and therefore suitable for use on core, booster and upper stages of Europe’s future launch vehicles.
“[Prometheus] features variable thrust, multiple ignitions, and intelligent onboard control systems for reusability. Thanks to additive layer manufacturing, which accounts for 70 per cent of the mass of the engine, the number of parts is low and this speeds up production and reduces waste. This can achieve a tenfold reduction in costs compared with the existing Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine. In addition, the use of liquid methane fuel is expected to reduce the cost of ground operations before and after flight,” stated ESA.
Six Prometheus engine demonstrators will be manufactured for tests. At the same time, this will prove that the engine can be manufactured at the target recurring cost. The project will also prepare a Prometheus concept based on liquid hydrogen fuel which will provide alternative options to methane and could be available for use on Ariane 6 as early as 2025.
ESA adds: “Phoebus is a highly-optimised upper stage for use on future versions of the upcoming Ariane 6 launch vehicle as well as other launchers. Phoebus could boost Ariane 6’s payload capacity to geostationary orbit by more than two metric tonnes and reduce production costs. ArianeGroup will work with MT Aerospace to validate key technologies of Phoebus developed with support from ESA since May 2019.