Pangea Aerospace tests the Aerospike engine

WASHINGTON – A European small launcher start-up has successfully tested a small version of an aerospike engine powered by methane and liquid oxygen that it plans to develop for use in an orbital vehicle.

Barcelona-based Pangea Aerospace announced on November 16 that it had completed a series of tests of the aerospike engine, called the Demo P1, at a facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany, operated by the German space agency DLR. These tests, carried out over a month, included a test where the 20 kilonewton (4,500 pound-force) motor operated for two and a half minutes.

Aerospike engines have been studied for decades because of their more efficient potential. These engines do not have the bell-shaped nozzles of conventional engines, optimizing the expansion of the exhaust gases. Pangea maintains that aerospike engines can be 15% more efficient than conventional engines.

Aerospike engines, however, were difficult to develop. Pangea believes they have solved this problem through the combination of a copper alloy developed by NASA, called GRCop42, as well as 3D printing of the regenerated cooled engine, which makes it easier to produce the complex series of channels to circulate. propellants in the engine before reaching the combustion chamber.

“The 3D printing capabilities in its manufacture significantly reduce its cost, but also allow us to have this freedom of design,” Adrià Argemí, Managing Director of Pangea, said in an interview.

This engine was intended to be a demonstration of aerospike engine technology for use in larger engines. Argemí declined to indicate the level of thrust of his next engine, but said it would be powerful enough for a small launcher. The company also has a study contract with the French space agency CNES for the study of meganewton-class aerospike engines.

He said scaling the engine shouldn’t be as difficult as building and testing the first one. “One thing we’re sure now is that with aerospike propulsion, the bigger you do it, the better it gets,” he said. “For this small model, it was quite delicate and complex to reduce the surfaces to cool the surfaces. “

The success of the test will help the company, which has raised more than three million euros ($ 3.4 million) in private seed funding and around 3.5 million euros in grants and public funding, to raise a new round table. “We are aiming to do our Series A in 2022 and we already have interested investors,” Xavier Llairó, Pangea’s commercial director, said in the interview.

Pangea hopes to demonstrate the larger version of its Aerospike engine in flight within the next three years, Argemí said. “It would be the first flight of an aerospike that we have ever seen, and would prove to everyone that this is a very interesting technology that really helps you maximize your payload in orbit.”

The aerospike engine, Llairó added, will also contribute to the vehicle’s reuse efforts. “Aerospikes are very interesting because they have a regenerative cooling system,” he said. “When you tail-in first, there are a lot of benefits in terms of the shape of the aerospike that helps you dissipate heat loads and have a smoother re-entry. “

These cutting-edge technologies, he said, are essential for the company to stand out in a market crowded with small launchers. “We know we’re a laggard in the micro-launcher industry, and that’s why we’re focusing on technologies that can really disrupt this market. “

“We are very proud to say that today we have probably the most advanced aerospike engine in the world,” said Llairó. “This is a key element that can drastically disrupt the industry in the years to come.”

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