The MT Aerospace site in Augsburg is well connected to the European history of spaceflight. At the moment important components for Ariane 5 are produced. In the past components for all Ariane ESA launchers (1, 2, 3 & 4) were assembled here starting at the end of the 1970s. This story of success will hopefully be extended with the participation of MT-A in the Ariane 6 program of ESA and the Ariane Group.
The Ariane 6 will be the new main launcher of ESA lifting medium and heavy payloads to space. If all goes as planned the first launch will happen in July 2020 from the European spaceport Kourou in French Guayana.
Video animation provided by ESA showing the launch of an Ariane 6 with four solid rocket motors (AR64).
The design of the Ariane 6 was optimized to get a very reliable and versatile launcher for reasonably low launch costs at the same time. Versatility is guaranteed by having 2 versions of Ariane 6: one with two solid rocket motors (AR62) and one with four (AR64). The AR62 will be well suited for medium sized payloads. The AR64 can lift a heavy payload or two communication satellites as Ariane 5 can do now.
The main component of such an AR6 solid rocket motor is the so-called booster case. Such a booster case is not only the container for 137 tons (!) of solid propellant, it is the combustion chamber for this propellant at the same time and needs to withstand very high temperatures and pressures. You may remember that steel segments are being used for the Ariane 5 booster cases. Steel is relatively heavy. A different material needs to be used for boosters with lower weight. The choice for the material of AR6 booster cases was made with Carbon Fiber Composite (CFC). Besides from the low weight in comparison to steel CFC has another advantage. The entire booster case can be made in a single piece!
As Ariane 6 will need two or even four of these solid rocket motors it is important that the booster cases can be produced with low costs. Therefore MT-A and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Augsburg have developed a low cost production process called infusion method. The carbon fibers are wounded in dry condition. After the wounding process for the entire case is complete the binding material (Epoxy) is applied. Until now wounding and applying Epoxy had to happen at the same time what is a very complicated and expensive process.
Thanks to this innovative new technology and the increased financial contribution of Germany to the development costs of Ariane 6 MT Aerospace will produce booster cases for Ariane 6 in Augsburg. There is a second location for the production of Ariane 6 booster cases in Italy. The Avio Group will produce AR6 booster cases as well as the same-sized cases for the first stage of the Vega launcher.
Additionally to booster cases all AR6 tank domes for the main stage and the upper stage will be assembled at MT Aerospace Augsburg. To keep the costs for the production of the domes low they all have the same diameter of 5.4m and can therefore be produced with the same tooling. Up to 11 Ariane 6 launches are planned per year. As 8 tank domes are needed for one Ariane 6 the annual demand could reach 88 domes allowing a series production of the domes.
MT Aerospace will not only produced booster cases and tank domes for Ariane 6. They will also produce the cylindrical tank sections between the domes. These sections for the upper stage will be combined with the domes made in Augsburg in the new MT Aerospace plant in Bremen. The assembled upper stage tanks will only need to be transported down the road to the Airbus/Ariane Group plant in the neighbourhood in Bremen for further integration.
And these are still not all components that MT Aerospace will produce for Ariane 6. There will be the Aft Bay Cylinder, that will contain the Vulcain main engine of the core stage and serve as connection point for the lower staps for attaching the boosters, too. Additionally, the LOX and LH2 tanks of upper stage and main stage will be connected by Inter Tank Structures made by MT-A.
Finally, the Rear Skirts and the Front Skirt Rings of the Ariane 6 Solid Rocket Motors SRM will also be produced by MT Aerospace in Augsburg. Now all components with a MT-A origin are listed in the hopefully case I have not forgotten anything.
To conclude, we can state that MT Aerospace will be a main supplier of components for Ariane 6. Ariane 6 will be another ESA launcher that will have also German origins. We hope that we can contribute a little bit to make Ariane 6 more popular in Germany. As some of you know, I am a big fan of the Ariane 6 launcher: for my #MoonDot missions to the MoonDotStation missions I am always launching with a mini Ariane 6 as you can see in the following video:
Additionally, we have several other Ariane 6 models in different scale and with two or four boosters for different purposes.
Furthermore, we plan to construct a mini launch complex for one of our mini Ariane 6 launchers. A flame trench will be build, a service tower, lightning towers and a mobile gantry very similar to the real ones in Kourou. By coincedence, MT Aerospace is involved in the construction of the real launch complex in Kourou, too. I could tell you more about that now, but this report is long enough already I think. Another time …
Now we (my mission director @SpaceHolgar & yours truly) would like to thank MT Aerospace for the great opportunity of visiting the factory in Augsburg. We were highly impressed by all the information and insights about the production of Ariane 5 and 6 we were allowed to get. We had some fantastic tours in the different halls of the factory. Many thanks for the invitation for another visit after the production of components for Ariane 6 has started before the end of this year 2017. We would love to be back – anytime! 😉
Special thanks go the Mrs. Holsworth for enabling and organizing this great visit including the guided tours. Many thanks and some special greetings are send this way to Augsburg! Dankeschön!
Teil 2: Tank domes and other things