The Ariane launch vehicle family and the Vega launcher guarantee Europe's independent access to space. With an eye on the now rapidly changing situation in the launch market, the question is being asked – how can this successful portfolio of space launchers be expanded in the future? Additionally, what is the outlook in this for new and unconventional ideas? As part of the 6th Industrial Days at the Lampoldshausen site of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on 11 and 12 April 2018, leading representatives of space agencies, industry and academia are discussing visionary concepts beyond the established launch systems. Participants are addressing, in particular, the challenges that future technologies, such as reusable launch systems, digitalisation and the construction of large satellite constellations, will entail.
The coming years will decide the future of space transport. Reusable launch systems, new liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4) propulsion systems and global plans for the construction of large satellite constellations will change the worldwide vision of access to space. New customer requirements, political guidelines and unprecedented competition are posing new questions for Europe. On the one hand, based on its own need for institutional payloads, Europe must focus on its own launch capabilities. On the other hand, it is important not to focus exclusively on the requirements of institutional missions and miss out on the advances to be found in a challenging international environment. "In spaceflight, several important trends are moving towards achieving their full potential simultaneously. This is accompanied by great change, which opens up the possibility for us to invest simultaneously in both proven and new technologies," explained Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "For this reason, in Europe we should now be analysing what mix of existing and new launcher technologies can make us even more successful. To prepare test bed P5 for future developments in the field of LOX/methane technology, an investment of up to 30 million euro is planned at the Lampoldshausen site," continued Ehrenfreund.
Research for launcher concepts and propulsion technologies of the future
The impetus for this change comes not only from new markets for services and applications, but also through the development of disruptive technologies, such as battery-powered propellant pumps, new fibre-reinforced composite materials, and engine components produced using additive layer manufacturing (ALM). This is why it is important for Europe to create technological innovations that will prepare its space sector to address the future challenges of a rapidly changing environment. Developments in technological hotspots provide an impetus for new innovations. In particular, the subjects of low-cost engines and reusable launch systems have lead to joint European projects such as Prometheus and Callisto. Space agencies, academia and the space industry are working closely together here. "Our goal is to combine a sustainable and cost-effective launcher with guaranteed, independent access to space. In this, we are researching new and unconventional technologies to achieve innovative approaches, such as a liquid oxygen/methane engine and a reusable launch system," explained Hansjörg Dittus, the DLR Executive Board Member for Space Research and Technology. Both projects are technologies that together will significantly reduce the cost of a launch vehicle. Callisto is a project that was initiated in 2016 by the French space agency CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) which can be used to test reusability. In the 'Prometheus Project', CNES, ArianeGroup and DLR are working together on the development of a cost effective, high-thrust, reusable rocket engine that can be fuelled with liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (LCH4). This research and technological development is part of the Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP) of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Construction of satellite networks will place new demands on space transport
Plans for the construction of pan-global satellite networks could open up new business possibilities, changing launcher concepts and traditional space industry practice. Satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of around 1200 kilometres, and which will grow into constellations of several hundred satellites, will open up new opportunities for a wide range of commercial applications, such as Earth observation and disaster management. Here, the developing market position must be carefully analysed, particularly the technical requirements of suppliers of large satellite fleets. The traditional space community can make an active contribution to development and form suitable partnerships. For this reason, it is important to think across European borders in terms of industry, to actively seek exchanges with complementary sectors, and thus make better use of the great potential for synergy with other areas, such as Information Technology and mechanical engineering. This will result in partnerships in which the skills of employees can be pooled and new technological opportunities can be pursued. Above all, they will create the preconditions for knowledge transfer.
Findings from data – engine tests at DLR Lampoldshausen
DLR Lampoldshausen operates unique test stands and installations for carrying out trials on launcher engines, which are of crucial importance for European spaceflight. These test installations cover the entire range of requirements from testing components and engines, through to entire rocket stages. Research and development trials are carried out, as well as qualification and characterisation tests. DLR engineers are currently testing both the Vulcain 2.1 main-stage engine and the Vinci upper-stage engine for the Ariane 6 on test stands P5 and P4.1 on behalf of ArianeGroup. These tests represent an important milestone in the development of the future European launcher Ariane 6, which will continue to secure Europe’s independent access to space.