Jun 30, 2017 | By Benedict

Airbus Safran Launchers, which will tomorrow become known as ArianeGroup, has signed a first contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop the Prometheus demonstrator, a partially 3D printed reusable engine demonstrator that runs on liquid oxygen (LOx) and methane.

ArianeGroup's partially 3D printed Prometheus demonstrator engine

With so many aerospace companies turning to additive manufacturing for the production of titanium aircraft components, the Paris Air Show was always going to be an exciting event for the 3D printing industry. That prediction was partly vindicated by GE, which reportedly drummed up around $31 billion of new business after showcasing its LEAP jet engines with 3D printed parts. But other companies made exciting announcements at the international event too.

Airbus Safran Launchers, the 50/50 joint-venture set up by the Airbus and Safran groups, is going through an exciting period. Not only is it changing its name to “ArianeGroup” tomorrow, it has also signed an agreement with the European Space Agency to develop the future Prometheus LOx-methane engine, a demonstrator engine with 3D printed nozzles that runs on liquid oxygen and methane.

“This signing underlines our determination to prepare now for the future of Europe’s launchers beyond 2030, while pulling out all the stops to ensure an Ariane 6 first flight in 2020,” commented Alain Charmeau, CEO of ArianeGroup. “Those two approaches based on continuous competitiveness and innovations are perfectly complementary.”

The objective of the partially 3D printed demonstrator is to produce an engine for just one million euros ($1.14M), far less than the approximately 10 million euros ($11.4M) it now costs to produce a Vulcain 2, a rocket engine first flown in 2005. Applications deriving from the Prometheus demonstrator will be able to equip future European launchers as of 2030.

The more expensive Vulcain 2 engine that Prometheus could replace

(Image: Safran)

“The engine is…a vital element of the launcher,” Charmeau said. “Preparing the technological breakthrough resulting in an engine about 10 times less costly to build than the current Vulcain 2 engine will allow us to remain in the global race for access to space. I therefore thank ESA and its member States for their contribution to the development of tomorrow’s European technology.”

The Prometheus demonstrator is being produced using a combination of modern techniques, including 3D printing, predictive maintenance, and digital control. Development of the engine began in November 2015, with partnership investments between the French space agency (CNES) and ArianeGroup.

The project accelerated rapidly in December 2016 at the last ESA ministerial level conference in Lucerne, where Prometheus was allocated a budget of more than 80 million euros ($91.3M).

The first tranche of the development contract for the future Prometheus LOx-methane engine, signed at the Paris Air Show, also brings in a number of external parties: Avio from Italy, GKN from Sweden, Safran AeroBooster from Belgium, and the German and French entities of ArianeGroup will all contribute to the development of the engine.

The first tests of the 3D printed Prometheus engine demonstrator are scheduled for 2020 in Lampoldhausen, Germany, on the site of the German aerospace agency (DLR).



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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