France’s ArianeGroup & ESA to make lightweight composites in rockets
June 07, 2021 - France
ArianeGroup has joined hands with the European Space Agency (ESA) as the lead contractor for the PHOEBUS (Prototype of a Highly OptimizEd Black UpperStage) project. The programme aims to further the development of composite technologies, for the future upper stage of the launch vehicle, Ariane 6. ArianeGroup is a French leader in space launchers.
The PHOEBUS programme will increase the maturity of the technologies needed to lower both the manufacturing cost and the weight of the Ariane 6 upper stage. The goal is, thus, to improve its performance (in particular, an increased payload capacity of about two metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit), and to validate a new stage architecture. Continued improvements to the competitiveness of the Ariane 6 launcher were designed-in from the outset and are proceeding incrementally throughout its development, ArianeGroup said in a media statement.
The exploration and use of composite technologies are key aspects, for which MT Aerospace and ArianeGroup are combining the expertise of their teams in Augsburg and Bremen in order to design and test the PHOEBUS upper stage cryogenic composite technology prototype. This collaboration, which began in May 2019 with an initial phase A/B1 design contract, continues under the ESA contract signed today.
To demonstrate the maturity of all the necessary technologies, ArianeGroup will contribute its knowhow in launcher stage technology and systems integration, while MT Aerospace will be responsible for the materials and technologies intended for composite tanks and structures in cryogenic conditions. The technologies developed under this contract will be integrated into an upper stage demonstrator beginning in 2023, in order to demonstrate that the system is compatible on a large scale (scale 1 for the LOX tank and scale 2/3 for the LH2 tank) with the liquid oxygen-hydrogen mixture PHOEBUS paves the way not only for the further development of a new stage for Ariane 6 or other future launchers, but also for the introduction of cryogenic composite technologies for the aeronautics sector, by creating synergies between the two industries, according to ArianeGroup.
“One of the main challenges is to ensure that the composites are just as tight and robust as metal parts for the extremely cold and penetrating liquid hydrogen. This new contract demonstrates the confidence of the ESA and DLR space agencies in our team and in our partner MT Aerospace, with whom we have been working for a long time, notably on metal parts for Ariane 6. We will continue our collaboration to position Germany and Europe at the forefront of cryogenic composite technologies for the storage of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. It is thanks to the institutional support of our agencies, ESA, and DLR, that we can innovate under the best conditions and at the best cost for the benefit of all citizens of Europe,” Pierre Godart, CEO of ArianeGroup in Germany said in a statement.