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New test facility for Ariane 6 upper stage

(26 February 2019 - ESA) Today, the DLR German Aerospace Center in Lampoldshausen inaugurated a new test facility that simulates launch for the complete Ariane 6 upper stage.

The Lampoldshausen centre makes a key contribution to Europe’s progress in space propulsion and already tests the Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1, and Vinci rocket engines. Other rocket engines tested here include the upper-stage expander cycle demonstrator ETID, and recently a 3D-printed thrust chamber designed for storable-propellants, both developed within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme.

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P5.2 test stand (courtesy: ESA - S. Corvaya)

“An essential part of proving that a launch system is ready, is to test the complete rocket stages in conditions that are as close as possible to those experienced in flight,” added Pier Domenico Resta, ESA’s Ariane 6 Launch System Architect Manager.

“This new test facility will enable us to simulate the launch, from ground activities such as fuelling and draining of tanks, through all flight phases.”

The test stand design is complex, having many fluid interfaces including cryogenic supplies, near-vacuum simulation, an acoustic noise reduction system, electrical interfaces and a control stand that complies with strict safety constraints.

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Central control room (courtesy: ESA - S. Corvaya)

Operations inside the test stand are monitored from a central control room located away from the test stand.

After final preparations, a countdown marks the start of the test, simulating an actual rocket launch.

The tests will include the Vinci engine firing, non-propulsive ballistic phases, tank pressurisation to increase performance, Vinci reignitions, exhaust nozzle manoeuvres, ending with passivation where all remaining internal energy is removed.

Tests will last up to 18 hours and could be repeated on a weekly basis.

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Ariane 6 upper stage 'Test cell' (courtesy: ESA - S. Corvaya)

The test stand has three main areas. A steel structure will hold the Ariane 6 upper stage in front of a concrete safety wall – the ‘Test cell’. Under this is a concrete chute to funnel away hot exhaust gases from the Vinci engine, and behind the safety wall is a concrete building with five levels for gaseous panels, control, and auxiliary systems.

Fuel and other essentials for P5.2 operations come from existing infrastructure, which has enabled savings on construction costs.

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Funnel for exhaust gases (courtesy: ESA - S. Corvaya)

The test stand will undergo checks until mid-2019 to verify that it performs as required.

The complete Ariane 6 upper stage will arrive at Lampoldshausen at the end of 2019 and simulations will begin in the first quarter of 2020.

Ariane 6 is designed to extend guaranteed access to space for Europe and will be capable of carrying out all types of missions to all orbits. It features a modular design with two versions: Ariane 62, fitted with two P120C boosters, and Ariane 64, with four.

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