A prototype of the P80 rocket motor, which will power the first stage of ESA's new small launcher - Vega, was successfully tested on 4 December at the Guiana Space Centre, Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Ignition occurred at 12:35 local time (15:35 UTC/GMT).
The motor delivered a mean thrust of about 190 tonnes for a nominal duration of 111 seconds. This is roughly one third of the thrust delivered by each of Ariane 5's solid booster stages.
More than 600 parameters were recorded during the firing test to monitor the performance of the motor. Initial analysis confirms that the measurements are fully in line with predictions.
Solid propellant rockets cannot be shut down once they have been ignited. The test engine was equipped with specially designed cutters to break open the casing and stop the test, should a malfunction have made this necessary.
Qualification for flight
The first firing of the P80 took place on 30 November 2006. This was a qualification model and served to finalise the validation of the motor behaviour predictions and of the chosen technologies.
The motor tested yesterday was representative of the flight configuration. Once the data recorded during the test have been analysed and the engine has undergone post-test inspection, this firing is expected to complete qualification of the P80 in readiness for Vega's maiden flight, scheduled to take place by the end of 2008.
The P80 motor is about 12 metres high and 3 metres in diameter, and is loaded with 88 tonnes of solid propellant. Unlike previous motors of this size, it contains a single propellant segment, instead of several segments cast separately before being mated together.
Taking advantage of its similar dimensions, the propellant casting for the P80 is carried out at the Guiana Propellant Plant in Kourou, in the same pit as the 100-tonne lower segments of Ariane 5's solid boosters. However,
|Contact: Stefano Bianchi|
European Space Agency