Pangea Aerospace’s Aerospike Engine Tested on DLR Test Bench

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  • On behalf of the start-up Pangea Aerospace, DLR tested a MethaLox aerospike engine for the first time.
  • The team from DLR and Pangea Aerospace successfully carried out several hot-run tests on the European research and technology test stand P8.
  • Aerospike technology promises a much higher degree of efficiency compared to conventional drives.
  • The unique test bench infrastructure at DLR’s Lampoldshausen site is a prerequisite for the development of future-oriented European space propulsion systems.

LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (DLR PR) — Unique test stands, extensive know-how and decades of experience – the Lampoldshausen site of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) specializes in developing and testing drives for space travel. Whether for the large launchers of the Ariane family or the growing market of start-ups for smaller rockets, so-called micro-launchers: That DLR Institute for Space Propulsion tests and qualifies technology demonstrators as well as entire engine stages for launch into space. In November 2021, a DLR team commissioned the Spanish start-up Pangea Aerospace examined a very special engine: At the European research and technology test bench P8, they successfully carried out hot-run tests on the world’s first additively manufactured MethaLox aerospike engine. Overheating tests are comprehensive functional tests – they are an important step in preparing for a first flight.

Aerospike technology: great potential, for the first time in a practical test

Aerospike technology enables future-oriented engine design. The nozzle has the shape of a thorn – English “spike”. As a result, it can adapt to different flight altitudes in a much more flexible manner. The technology promises a 15 percent higher degree of efficiency compared to conventional approaches. This also means that 15 percent less fuel is required to put the same mass into orbit. 

Aerospike technology has been a very promising solution for decades. However, it is only now possible to implement them – thanks to new materials that can withstand higher temperatures and greater freedom in design through additive manufacturing processes. For example, Pangea Aerospace was able to develop a new regenerative cooling system, which uses liquid oxygen and liquid methane. Both gases are cryogenic, i.e. in a cryogenic state. They pass through the cooling ducts before they are ignited in the engine’s combustion chamber. In this way the engine cools down and does not melt.

The total of four test runs gave an initial insight into how the aerospike technology works in practice. The engine burned for around 60 seconds each time. With its testing facilities that are unique in Europe, the DLR significantly supports the successful development of future-proof and efficient space propulsion systems. The aim is to ensure the most competitive space transport possible and thus continue to ensure access to space for European companies and research institutions.

The next generation of engines at a glance

“The P8 test stand is a unique infrastructure in Europe for preparing such technologies for competitive launchers. With it, DLR is making a significant contribution to the development of innovative engine concepts in Europe, ”emphasizes Prof. Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of the DLR Institute of Space Propulsion. During tests on the P8 test stand, data from more than 200 parameters can be recorded. All conceivable operating states and flight loads in real use can be simulated under almost realistic conditions.

Test stand P8: putting technologies into practice

The European research and technology test bench P8 at DLR in Lampoldshausen has been a reliable platform for engine development for over 25 years. Every year engineers test technology demonstrators there on around 80 test days. The work on liquid-chemical space propulsion covers the entire spectrum of technology readiness levels (TRL) 1 to 9: from the functional principle to testing and qualification for use.

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