France: An ultra-low cost reusable rocket engine, Prometheus, using liquid oxygen–methane propellants, is set to power Europe’s future launchers.
Today, ESA and ArianeGroup signed a contract to develop a full-scale demonstrator to be ground tested in November 2020.
Prometheus demonstrates the systematic application of an extreme design-to-cost approach, new propellant and innovative manufacturing technologies.
It lowers costs to a tenth of those for Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine.
Prometheus casing prototype
Additive layer-by-layer manufacturing of engine parts enables faster production, with fewer parts.
Key characteristics of Prometheus include a computer system enabling real-time adjustment and immediate diagnosis for potential reusability.
Methane propellant is widely available and brings high efficiency, standardisation and operational simplicity, making it a perfect candidate for a reusable booster engine demonstration.
By 2020, technical knowledge of liquid oxygen–methane propulsion gained through the Prometheus project will allow fast and informed decisions to be made on useful applications.
Prometheus provides a nominal 1 MN of variable thrust, is suitable for first- and second-stage applications, and is reignitable. It will propel a range of next-generation launchers, including future evolutions of Ariane 6.
The Prometheus contract, worth €75 million, was signed by ESA Director of Space Transportation, Daniel Neuenschwander, and Alain Charmeau, CEO at ArianeGroup, at ESA headquarters in Paris in the presence of ESA Director General Jan Wörner.
The project is part of ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme.
“Prometheus will power Europe’s future launchers, forging a path of continuous improvement in competitiveness,” commented Neuenschwander.
“This contract paves the way for the future of Europe’s space transportation, and the development of European propulsion technology of tomorrow,” added Charmeau.
The project benefits from significant synergies with other launcher demonstration projects within ESA, national agencies and industry.