23. January 2018
Main stage engine for Ariane 6 on the test stand at DLR Lampoldshausen

First ig­ni­tion for Eu­rope's most pow­er­ful rock­et en­gine, the Vul­cain 2.1

In­side the DLR test rig
Image 1/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Inside the DLR test rig

The en­gine Vul­cain 2.1 that was test­ed on 22 Jan­uary 2018 for the first time by DLR en­gi­neers in Lam­pold­shausen ig­nit­ed for 11 min­utes. The high-pre­ci­sion mea­sure­ment and anal­y­sis sys­tem makes it pos­si­ble to de­liv­er ac­cu­rate re­sults, al­low­ing en­gine de­vel­op­er Ar­i­ane­Group to draw de­tailed con­clu­sions about tech­ni­cal is­sues.
En­gine test at the DLR site in Lam­pold­shausen
Image 2/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Engine test at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen

On 22 Jan­uary 2018, DLR en­gi­neers suc­cess­ful­ly test­ed the Vul­cain 2.1 en­gine de­vel­oped by Ar­i­ane­Group in the P5 test rig at the DLR site in Lam­pold­shausen for the first time.
Vul­cain 2.1 en­gine
Image 3/3, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Vulcain 2.1 engine

The new Vul­cain 2.1 en­gine, fea­tur­ing a 3D-print­ed gas gen­er­a­tor, a re­designed, sim­pli­fied noz­zle and a com­bus­tion cham­ber that can be ig­nit­ed by the launch­er's ground sup­port sys­tem will bring the fu­ture Ar­i­ane 6 launch­er to space.

  • For the first time, the new Vulcain 2.1 engine was tested for use with the future Ariane 6 European launcher.
  • DLR carried out the test in the P5 test rig at the site in Lampoldshausen on behalf of ArianeGroup.
  • Focus: Space, space propulsion

The new Vulcain 2.1 engine, which is set to carry the new European launcher Ariane 6 into space in 2020, is intended to achieve greater efficiency at lower costs. However, before such a launch can be successfully carried out, the development engines must prove that they can cope with the enormous 130-ton thrust, temperatures of approximately 3000 degrees Celsius in the combustion chamber, the high rotational speeds of the turbo pumps and the pressure in the propellant lines. On 22 January 2018, engineers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) carried out a first successful test of the engine, developed by the Ar­i­ane­Group, on test stand P5 at Lampoldshausen. "We can evaluate the functional capability of the engine for the main stage only by constantly carrying out tests, in which we gradually take steps towards its ultimate use in space," explains Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of the DLR Institute of Space Propulsion. A total of 12 firings are planned for the first test campaign at DLR.

Its predecessor, the Vulcain 2 main stage engine, is currently used on the Ariane 5 launcher and has so far completed 70 successful flights in a row. To create a more cost-effective and efficient generation of engines, Vulcain 2 is being redeveloped into the new Vulcain 2.1 engine, featuring a 3D-printed gas generator, a redesigned, simplified nozzle and a combustion chamber that can be ignited by the launcher's ground support system. Vulcain 2.1 will play a key role in carrying Ariane 6 up to an altitude of 150 kilometres within the first 10 minutes of flight. The DLR test on the Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine lasted 11 minutes, roughly a third longer than the engine would need to carry the Ariane 6 launcher up into space, assisted by solid-propellant boosters.

Step-by-step progress towards the launcher of the future

The decision to develop a new launcher system was taken in December 2014, when the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) held their Council Meeting at Ministerial Level. They decided to opt for an enhancement of the existing generation of Ariane launchers in order to adapt to growing competition and heightened expectations on the world market. The new launcher was to build upon the existing components of Ariane 5. Depending on the configuration, Ariane 6 will be able to transport a payload of up to 11 tons into space, halving the cost of launches compared to Ariane 5. The new re-ignitable Vinci engine for the upper stage of Ariane 6 has been one of the elements tested at the DLR site in Lampoldshausen since 2005, and now the test runs for the new Vulcain 2.1 main stage engine have been added to the site's portfolio.

Modern test stands for safe and reliable engines

The aim of the seven-month test campaign is to gain a thorough understanding of all key features that distinguish the new main stage engine for the Ariane 6 launcher. "Only those who are fully familiar with these features can adjust the delicate combination of mechanical and electronic components, and thus get the engine to a stage where it is technically mature," stresses Schlechtriem. The first test was based on the Vulcain 2 engine, which has already been developed and is used in the current Ariane model. In this case, all of the pyrotechnical igniters were retained in order to compare the new engine with the older version. For the next test run, the combustion chamber will be ignited from the test stand using propane gas. At the end of the test campaign, the engine will have to successfully complete a final rehearsal on the DLR test stand in its definitive flight configuration.

"Testing is not just about seeing how this technology fares under normal operating conditions. We want to look at how it copes with stresses that go beyond those normally experienced in flight – in other words, at higher temperatures, at high and low combustion chamber pressures and with different fuel mixture ratios," says Anja Frank, Head of the Department of Test Facilities at DLR Lampoldshausen. "We are using the development engine to assess the limits of the Vulcain 2.1."

Data for a reliable engine

The results of the tests carried out by engineers, technicians and test stand workers at the DLR Institute of Space Propulsion will not only be proof of the engine’s functional capabilities, but also a source of a large amount of data. Ultimately, the use of a high-precision measuring and analysis system makes it possible to obtain accurate results and thus allows the ArianeGroup engine developers to draw detailed conclusions about technical issues. The final design of the main stage engine requires a thorough understanding of the pressures and temperatures in the propellant lines, the rotational speeds of the turbo pumps, the pressures in the gas generator and combustion chamber, and the resulting vibrations to which the engine is subjected during a hot run.

  • Manuela Braun
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pro­gramme and Strat­e­gy, Space Re­search and Tech­nol­o­gy
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Hansestraße 115
    51149 Cologne
  • Anja Kaboth
    Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Lam­pold­shausen
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 6298 28-201
    Fax: +49 6298 28-112
    Im Langen Grund
    74239 Hardthausen
  • Prof. Dr. Stefan Schlechtriem
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Space Propul­sion
    Telephone: +49 6298 28-203
    Im Langen Grund
    74239 Hardthausen
  • Anja Frank
    DLR In­sti­tute of Space Propul­sion
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    DLR In­sti­tute of Space Propul­sion
    Telephone: +49 6298 28-488
    Fax: +49 6298 28-2298
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln

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