Jan 24, 2018 | By David

We’ve reported before on the 3D printing projects carried out by the European Space Agency, which has been experimenting with miniature satellites 3D printed from PEEK filament and is planning to install a 3D printed village on the moon by 2030, amongst other things. The Agency recently tested out the Vulcan 2.1 engine, which will be the first phase of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. The gas generator in the Vulcan 2.1 was made using 3D printing technology, which allowed the ESA to keep costs down for the Ariane 6 without sacrificing performance or efficiency.

ArianeGroup, the team in charge of the Ariane 6 project, announced on Tuesday (January 23rd) that the rocket engine’s test was successfully completed. Ariane Group was formerly known as Airbus Safran Launchers, as it was established in a joint venture between aerospace giant Airbus and French manufacturer Safran. The two companies bought out the contract for the Ariane series back in 2014, with the intention of lowering costs for the ESA.

Ariane 5 has completed over 80 successful launches since it was first inaugurated in 2003. The Vulcan 2.1 is a new, modified version of the Vulcan 2.0, which has been powering the first stage of the Ariane 5’s flights for over a decade. It tends to use a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel, with a ratio of around 3:1.

One of the key targets of the Ariane 6 project was to lower costs and simplify production processes compared to the previous Ariane 5 launch vehicle. The ESA is currently competing with a number of private sector space exploration efforts, including those of billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Space X project. A similar launch vehicle program developed by Space X is being produced at just 60 percent of the cost of Ariane 6, albeit with a slightly smaller payload.

The improved design flexibility, streamlined workflow, and faster prototyping and production times for the gas generator, provided by 3D printing technology, will have all been crucial in the reduction of costs for the latest version of the Vulcan engine. The gas generator is one of the key parts of the engine, creating gas from the liquid sources, which is then used to drive a turbine. Compared to ones that engines that use the gas itself as thrust for the rocket, gas generator-cycle engines like the Vulcan are much simpler in terms of design and engineering.

The Vulcan 2.1 engine was tested by the German space research center DLR (Deutsche Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt), from a site in Lampoldshausen, near Stuttgart.

At the same time as testing the Vulcan 2.1, ArianeGroup is also working on the final phase of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. Known as the Vinci, this expander cycle rocket engine uses highly pressurized liquid fuel that turns to gas at a relatively low temperature. This means that it is capable of being re-used up to five times, one of its main advantages over previous engines used for the Ariane vehicles.

Ariane Group reported that the first flight models of the Vinci’s combustion chamber went into production back in July 2017, and over 130 fire tests have been carried out as part of its qualification process. The first launch of the finished Ariane 6 is scheduled for sometime in mid-2020, just over two years from now.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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