Snecma Vinci Engine Completes Development Tests

Vinci engine (Credit: Snecma)
Vinci engine (Credit: Snecma)

VERNON, France (Snecma PR) – The fifth development model (M5) of the Vinci® rocket engine designed by Snecma (Safran), has successfully completed its ground firing tests.

Vinci® is a new-generation cryogenic rocket engine – fueled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen – intended for the upper stages of the upcoming Ariane 5 ME and Ariane 6 launch vehicles. It can be restarted in flight, and develops three times more thrust than the HM7B engine now powering the upper stage of the current Ariane 5 ECA launcher.

The Vinci engine is being developed by Snecma (Safran) as prime contractor, leading a team of European partners within the scope of the European Space Agency’s development programs for the Ariane 5 ME (Midlife Evolution) and Ariane 6 launchers. Airbus Defence and Space is the industrial prime contractor for the development of these launchers.

The Vinci® M5 engine is fitted with subsystems very close to flight configuration, most of them to the last development standard. From September 2013 to August 2014, the M5 model underwent 16 firing tests totaling 5,987 seconds, or six times its operating time during an Ariane mission. It features a new igniter configuration, which passed its tests with flying colors; some tests involved up to four consecutive firing sequences.

The tests of the Vinci M5 development engine were carried out at the Lampoldshausen facility of German space agency DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt), on the P4.1 test rig, which duplicates the vacuum conditions of space. The complete analysis of the rich lode of data from these tests, along with the evaluation of the hardware, set to start now, will enable the configuration to be frozen for qualification engines, set for a critical design review (CDR) in November 2014.

“The dynamic and firing tests of the fifth Vinci development model enabled us to confirm the engine’s maturity and endurance, as well as its expected performance using subsystem configurations very close to flight models,” said David Quancard, head of Snecma’s Space Engines division. “The development of Vinci is continuing, in line with the technical and schedule objectives set by the European Space Agency, in particular engine qualification in early 2017.”

Including this latest series of tests, Vinci engines have now logged over 21,500 seconds of firing tests. The next step will be tests of the M6 and M7 development engines, targeting subsystem qualification. These tests will kick off in 2015 on the PF52 test rig at Snecma’s Vernon plant, and on the DLR’s P4.1 test rig in Lampoldshausen, respectively. The following year will see two series of engine qualification tests, conducted concurrently on these two rigs.

Snecma is part of Safran, an international high-technology group with three core businesses: aerospace, defence and security. Snecma designs, builds and sells propulsion systems for air and space, including a wide range of commercial engines that are powerful, reliable, economical and environmentally-friendly, led by the global best-seller CFM56 and the new-generation LEAP*. The company also makes world-class military aircraft engines, as well as rocket propulsion systems and equipment for satellites and launch vehicles. Snecma is a leading provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for civil and military aircraft engines, under the new EngineLife® brand, offering comprehensive support for customers around the world.

* CFM56 and LEAP engines are produced and marketed by CFM International, a 50/50 joint company of Snecma (Safran), France and GE of the United States.

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  • Good news. I was interested to see this image of the Vinci:

    “The expansion nozzle of the Vinci engine consists of three parts, which can be telescopically extended in flight.”

    Europe’s new upper-stage engine reaches an important milestone – DLR tests its long expansion nozzle for the first time
    12 November 2010

    The Vinci has a quite high vacuum Isp of 465 s, when the nozzle is fulled extended, which means it is very efficient. However, because it has a telescoping nozzle, it can also be used as a lower stage engine when the nozzle extensions are retracted. This means it could also be used to launch a small hydrogen fueled stage all the way to orbit.

    Bob Clark

  • Hug Doug

    The Vinci is an upper stage engine, actually. it has a telescoping engine bell so they can reduce the length of the interstage segment, which decreases the weight of the rocket overall.

    though it probably -could- be put to the use you describe, it likely won’t be, due to its size.

  • Tonya

    If anyone wants to build a large chemical stage to push a massive payload towards Mars, that’s the engine you want to look at.

    Of course whether you should use chemical propulsion for such a problem is another question.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I disagree; LH2 is so 20th century. It was conceived in the 20th century for a 20th century conceived launch system. The chemical propellent for the 21st century is CH4. Vinci as an LH2 engine is economically DOA.

  • windbourne

    Not sure that I agree. The reason for ch4 is handling and volume ease. However, with time, we continue to improve our handling of H2 and its low temp requirements.
    For now, earth and mars, ch4 remains the more economical engine. But for the moon, and possibly a generic tug engine, H2 would be better since otherwise, carbon has to be imported.

  • windbourne

    Actually, for mars, ch4 is probably the superior economical choice. Going to the moon or other locations where u do in-situ refueling, then H2 is probably better.

  • Tonya

    I’m still puzzled by how polarised some have become on this matter, where it is often summarized as simply LH2 = bad, CH4 = good. Obviously the reasoning used by SpaceX is a large factor in this, but even they described the trade off between the two fuels as marginal.

    Of course SpaceX prefer to use the same fuel for all stages, and the large bulk of an LH2 tank is problematic on a first stage. However, on the specific use of a large upper stage, LH2 will always outperform CH4, even when the tank size is factored in.

    Just as a paper rocket exercise, the Vinci would potentially be a very good engine to use on the fully evolved SLS upper stage, clustering say two engines instead of four HL10s as currently baselined.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    The lunar argument is based on the *unproven* possibility that orbital spectral analysis has correctly identified frozen H2O. And, the further premise that extracting said water and processing it into rocket propellent will be physically doable in the next few decades, as well as being economical when it might eventually be achieved. Even then such an opportunity may well have to compete with nuclear electric tech – and nuclear power will probably be needed to facilitate the extraction and processing of any water that may exist.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…but even they described the trade off between the two fuels as marginal.”
    I think that Elon was actually referring to the performance advantage of LH2 being marginal after factoring in the tank size. After factoring in the handling and especially the economics is where CH4 pulls ahead.
    Yes, an LH2 upper-stage/interplanetary-transport may have a (marginal?) performance advantage, but the equation must also include economics and reusability.
    If you’re spending billions for a one-time effort on an expendable vehicle, then LH2 makes sense. If you plan to refuel and reuse then the various issues with LH2 start building up against it.
    At the end of the day though, a meaningful future in space is about economics, not pure performance. My comments stand with regard to a 20th century attitude and a mid-21st century attitude.

  • Tonya

    I would go back to my first point, which is that if you intend to do such a mission many times it isn’t a question of which chemical engine is the right one, but whether you should be using chemical propulsion at all.

    There’s a reason why almost every geostationary capable rocket flying today uses an LH2 upper stage, and that’s because the economics are quite good despite the technical difficulty also being quite high. Those differences in ISP add up, especially when there’s a large dv change, which means for most of the time the engine will be pushing its own fuel more than the payload.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “There’s a reason why almost every geostationary capable rocket flying today uses an LH2 upper stage, and that’s because the economics are quite good”
    Interesting then that the cheapest GTO launchers (F9 & Proton) use LOX/RP1 on their upper stage.

    The use of LH2 on upper (or lower) stages has not come about based on bang for your buck analyses. It comes from a mentality that you are spending a lot of money on an expendable vehicle and you want to try to maximise its lift capability. Single use propulsion systems have skewed perspectives towards maximising performance and away from optimising for cost effectiveness.

  • Tonya

    Well maximising lift is a valid argument for cost effectiveness. Reusability only increases the requirement, as the payload fraction becomes ever more marginal.

    Even with the Falcon 9, an LH2 upper stage was on the roadmap (the original Raptor engine). SpaceX have now gone in another direction, but we all know there are many reasons for that, primarily their fundamental interest in Mars. Blue Origin did the same evaluations for their orbital vehicles, and chose LH2. I don’t see either fuel as bad, they’re both valid choices based on the overall architecture.

    And to my original point, the Vinci would make an excellent engine for a Mars bound Earth departure stage. Unless SpaceX have some truly bizarre architecture that uses CH4 tanked back from the Mars surface to Earth orbit, I don’t see any particular argument for or against it on reusability grounds. And using chemical propulsion, any vehicle will only ever have limited reusability because of the journey time.

  • windbourne

    I think that it is based on manufacturing, and not on the engines.

    Basically, making CH4 on mars is MUCH cheaper and easier than producing H2 or RP1. That is the whole reason why Musk is switching to CH4 for mars.
    On the moon as well as many of the ice asteroids, with a real lack of easy carbon, it makes sense to go with H2.

  • windbourne

    If you noticed the other day, I was suggesting that SpaceX should look into UPower. I think that putting a MW of thorium based nuke power on the moon would make economic sense.
    While many are pushing solar (and it makes sense in places), I think that the ability to put nukes around the moon will enable that extraction, which needs to occur PRIOR to our running multiple missions.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “Well maximising lift is a valid argument for cost effectiveness.”
    No it isn’t. $/kg is the only valid argument for cost effectiveness.

    “Reusability only increases the requirement, as the payload fraction becomes ever more marginal.”

    Yes, but at the end of the day, the only measure that matters is cost effectiveness.