The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that the Prometheus rocket engine has now reached technical maturity and can be fitted and resued for any space mission.
Developed by ArianeGroup – a joint venture between Airbus and Safran – Prometheus is the precursor of ultra-low-cost rocket propulsion that is flexible enough to fit a fleet of new launch vehicles.
The agency is aiming to lower the cost of production of the current main stage Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine by applying the design-to-cost approach used for manufacturing the Prometheus.
Features such as variable thrust, multiple ignitions, suitability for main and upper stage application, and minimized ground operations before and after flight also make Prometheus a highly flexible engine.
The new Prometheus runs on liquid oxygen – methane which brings high efficiency, allows standardisation and operational simplicity. The methane propellant is also widely available and easy to handle.
Upcoming tests overseen by ArianeGroup at the DLR German Aerospace Center’s Lampoldshausen testing facility will validate the hardware components for the first Prometheus engine test model (M1).
In preparation, the P5 test bench will gain a 250 cubic metre capacity propellant tank for methane.
This should allow the engineers to efficiently switch test configurations between Prometheus and Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine – also in development.
ESA notes that the first elements of the engine were built last year using new methods such as additive layer manufacturing (ALM).
ALM builds a structure layer by layer, which is much quicker and easier than the traditional process of cutting away bulk material.
Moreover, complex, optimized parts – impossible to manufacture via classical methods – can be created using less material and energy, and in far fewer manufacturing steps.
Components manufactured and now ready to test include the turbo pump’s turbine, pump inlet and gas generator valves.
The coming months will see the delivery of the chamber valves and on-board rocket engine computer for engine management and monitoring – the part that makes this a ‘smart’ engine and potentially reusable.
The first combustion chamber model is expected at the end of June while the combustion chamber for M1 will be delivered in December 2020.
Image and content: ESA–ArianeGroup