Astrium, the number one company in Europe for space technologies and systems, has successfully completed a set of tests on tank structures proving that key design and manufacturing processes used for Ariane launchers are ready for production of the Liberty commercial launch vehicle second stage with ATK.
The tests covering load-carrying cryogenic tanks demonstrate that existing Astrium processes can be leveraged to confirm the overall Liberty schedule and enable a speedy entry into service – and into orbit. Astrium is also working on leaner production processes for the second stage to bring best value to the Liberty launch vehicle.
Liberty is a complete commercial crew transportation service, including the spacecraft, abort system, launch vehicle, and both ground and mission operations, designed from inception to meet NASA’s human-rating requirements with a planned first test flight in 2014 and Liberty crewed flight in 2015. Astrium, as a major subcontractor, will provide the second stage of the Liberty launch vehicle – based on the liquid-fuelled cryogenic core of the Ariane 5 vehicle powered by the Safran-built Vulcain 2 engine. The Ariane 5 launcher, for which Astrium is the Prime Contractor, was developed under the aegis of the European Space Agency and is operated by Arianespace. With 48 consecutive successful missions over nearly nine years, it is the world’s most reliable launcher. This includes the launch of three Autonomous Transfer Vehicles to resupply the International Space Station in the last four years. During this time, the Ariane 5 has launched more commercial satellites into orbit than any other launch vehicle in the world.
A film from the Astrium site in les Mureaux, near Paris (France), shows the work done to complete the stage testing. It shows the machining, forming, computerized automatic welding and inspection of cryogenic tank elements to provide the increased thickness and stiffened profiles necessary for the Liberty second stage. An additional tank panel of increased thickness is welded and tested in a cryogenic environment at the Euro Cryospace facilities (an Astrium and Air Liquide joint-venture). These successful tests demonstrate that Astrium’s manufacturing technology has the capability to process panels that are several times thicker than those of Ariane 5. These panels meet the needs for the strengthened cryogenic tanks of Liberty’s second stage.
“These tests take the Liberty second stage one step closer to production,” said Alain Charmeau, CEO of Astrium Space Transportation. “They demonstrate conclusively that our proven processes can manufacture thicker and stiffer cryogenic tanks for the Liberty second stage.
“Welding, machining, and forming space hardware is a highly sophisticated industrial process. Our extensive experience in manufacturing all Ariane launchers has given us comprehensive and unmatched capability that we can now utilize for a new commercial space transportation system – Liberty. We are proud to be a valued partner alongside ATK and Lockheed Martin and look forward to the success of Liberty,” he continued.
“Astrium’s world-class commercial launch team provides unique vehicle and systems capabilities to Liberty,” said Kent Rominger, ATK program manager for Liberty. “These tests by our Astrium teammates demonstrate how our flight-proven Liberty team is hard at work and keeping Liberty on schedule for first launch in 2014.”