As commercial space launches mature, it is clear that state-owned space agencies also need to cut costs to remain competitive. Recently,media reported that the European Space Agency (ESA) is developing the next generation of reusable rocket propulsion system prototype. It is called Prometheus and is manufactured using 3D printing technology. The demonstrative rocket engine, developed by Ariane Group for ESA, still uses liquid fuel, but at a lower cost than current design.
(From: Ariane Group / ESA)
One way to achieve the goal of controlling costs is to develop new engines. It can be mounted in different rockets in a flexible configuration to perform complex tasks while taking into account reusable features.
ESA notes that, thanks to the design from scratch, Prometheus is expected to control costs by 1/10 of the current main Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 rocket engine.
It is worth mentioning that the Prometheus can be used in the main stage and superior of the launch vehicle, supports variable thrust and multiple ignitions, and requires minimal ground maintenance before and after flight.
In terms of propellants, Prometheus is based on liquid oxygen-methane solutions, which are not only easier to handle, but also less difficult to purchase than other options.
In addition, Prometheus’ main subsystems are built using 3D printing technology to speed up prototyping and production and simplify designto-reduce the number of parts, such as turbine pumps, air intakes, and gas generator valves.
Prometheus’ on-board computers are also smarter and use potentially valuable components to manage and monitor rocket engines.
It is currently conducting hardware validation testing at Ariane Group’s Lampoldshausen test facility at the German Aerospace Center.
If all goes well, the Prometheus M1 prototype is expected to have a combustion chamber ready by December 2020 and will be ready to be assembled and demonstrated next year.