On November 27th, a Texus rocket was launched from Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, Sweden, on a suborbital flight to test a new propellant management device. The 13-minute flight of the DLR-procured rocket allowed for 6 minutes of microgravity testing, reaching an apogee of 263 kilometers.
Guy Pilchen, Future Launchers Preparatory Manager at ESA, said of the event, “The launch of Texus 48 demonstrating new technologies for future rockets was a success. It also shows great cooperation with DLR, where joint efforts made this flight possible”. For safety and policy reasons, liquid nitrogen was substituted in the test for the liquid oxygen and hydrogen which would be used in space.
The new propellant management device is a key aspect of ESA’s Cryogenic Upper Stage Technologies (CUST) program , which seeks to develop a new high-performance upper stage engine. The device would allow for cryogenic propellants to be handled in microgravity, where the free-floating propellant must be controlled in order for it to exit the propellant tank outlets and restart the engine. Although this technology already exists for storable propellants such as hydrazine, the new device would allow engines operating in microgravity to use the more difficult-to-handle but higher performance cryogenic propellants, such as liquid hydrogen and oxygen.
Following the flight, the propellant management devices were recovered for analysis. If the test results are promising, the devices will likely be used in a next-generation launcher, the development of which is planned to begin in 2012.
The CUST program is part of the larger ESA Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP), founded in 2003. The FLPP aims to design a next-generation launch vehicle that would eventually replace the Arianne 5. It consists of a number of programs in addition to CUST, including the High-Thrust Engine Demonstrator, and the Solid Propulsion Demonstrator.