The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) boasts unique expertise in developing and operating engine test facilities in Europe. The site in Lampoldshausen, for instance, has been testing and further developing engines for rockets and space systems since 1959. This research is part of the European space programme. With the Ariane launcher rocket family, Europe is able to independently inject satellites into orbit for all kinds of applications, thereby securing competitive, autonomous access to outer space – a pre-requisite for unrestricted satellite data usage.
High-performance test facility technology
The engine test facilities constitute a fundamental criterion for developing propulsion technologies until full operability, and ensuring their quality. As such, the DLR and its P4 altitude simulation test facility is an essential element in developing what it set to be Europe’s most powerful upper-stage engine, Vinci. Scientists are able to conduct highly realistic tests thanks to simulated environmental conditions and flight loads to which the engine is exposed later on in its journey. Tests are currently underway for the new Vinci reignitable Ariane-6 upper-stage engine. The aim of this campaign is to establish the final Vinci design for the qualification campaigns set to follow from 2017 onwards, after a prolonged development phase. These tests help DLR scientists obtain findings on engine behaviour, which can be used by the manufacturer, Airbus Safran Launchers, for final optimisations.
Vinci – the propulsion system for the next generation of launchers
Powered by the high-energy combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the Vinci engine is set to drive the upper stage of the new European Ariane 6 launcher rocket. Airbus Safran Launchers is a prime industrial contractor for the future Ariane 6; the development contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) was signed on 12 August 2015. The Ariane 6’s maiden flight is expected to take place in 2020 – the Ariane 5 will be used simultaneously until 2023, when it finally ends its service after more than 25 years.
Scientific expertise and unique test facilities to develop the Ariane 6
The P5.2 test facility is currently also being built at the DLR Lampoldshausen on behalf of the ESA in order to for tests to be conducted there with the future upper stage of the new Ariane-6 launcher rocket. This includes fuelling and emptying tests, as well as staged hot-fire testing using the Vinci engine. With its help, the DLR facility in Lampoldshausen will not only be able to assess engines and individual components, but also entire cryogenic upper stages. This new upper-stage test facility, due to be completed in 2018, perfectly complements the DLR’s test facility and systems.
Technologies for the next generation of engines
In addition to developing and operating test facilities, DLR scientists also use the P8 technology test facility to research advanced technologies for future space propulsion systems. The research focuses on examining the injection of fuel components, their mix and combustion, expansion of the hot gases in the injector, and the thermal loading of combustion chamber structures. The scientists conduct the experiments in these individual processes with the aid of model combustion chambers, which provide realistic conditions for rocket engines. In-depth understanding of these processes is a basic requirement for designing optimised engines in future.