ESA Gives Go Ahead for Low-cost Prometheus LOX-Methane Rocket Engine

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA has given Airbus Safran Launchers the go-ahead to start working on a full-scale prototype of an ultra-low cost engine demonstrator, Prometheus, using liquid oxygen–methane propellants.

The methane reusable engine precursor in the thrust class 1000 kN will be ground tested in 2020 for use on future versions of the European launcher family, after Ariane 6 and Vega-C. Next-generation launch vehicles require a factor 10 reduction in recurrent costs of propulsion systems compared to current cryogenic engines. New propellants, the systematic application of design-to-cost approach and innovative manufacturing technologies will also be applied.

The project can derive and provide significant synergies with other propulsion demonstration projects within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme, national agencies and industry.

  • duheagle

    What is the sound of one bet hedging?

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Followers, not leaders. But the fact they are converging on Blue/ULA/SpaceX suggests the analysis of the aforementioned is sound. Problem is, about 10 years late to the party.

  • WhoAmI

    Better start bottling up all the methane I produce, as I can see a new market for it down the road.

  • duheagle

    Yes. The trick is to lead the target, not aim for where it is now.

    SpaceX and Blue already have big methalox engines in test. SpaceX already has a cheap, reusable rocket.

    So the Euros have decided to start developing a methalox engine and a rocket whose low-end model will maybe be as cheap as what SpaceX charges now, but which is not reusable.

    They’re not even aiming for where SpaceX and Blue are now; more like where they were two years ago.

    And it’ll be years before the rocket appears and a few more before the engine appears.

    It’s the damned Maginot Line all over again.

  • duheagle

    Save it up for ten years and maybe it’ll be good for a quick toot of ITS’s smallest thruster.

    A man’s reach must exceed his grasp and all that.

  • JamesG

    Very similar to the sound of someone missing the bus.

  • savuporo
  • Saturn13

    Maybe a pressure fed engine. With carbon fiber tanks, the heavy metal tanks used could keep weight down. 3-D printing is my best guess for an ultra low cost engine.

  • Paul451

    Once everyone had to have LH/LOx engines, now everyone has to have methalox engines. Who knew aerospace was so faddish.

    Since they aren’t interested in a major manned mission to Mars (where you need fuel for return), it would make more sense to develop a liquid propane engine. Similar mass and energy density to RP-1, but higher Isp. Hence smaller tanks (lower mass) for the same delta-v as methalox, but with the same low-coking advantages for reusability.

    (And if you do crack extremely low cost reusability, where fuel-cost starts becoming a factor in the launch price, then, like methane, clean propane is much cheaper than high-purity kerosene.)

  • duheagle

    Hank Hill makes his pitch.

  • Sam Moore

    Prometheus is for Ariane Next, which is intended to be reusable.

  • duheagle

    Ariane Decade-After-Next maybe.

  • publiusr

    They just needed to finish that Maginot Line across Belgium. The Germans came through there once–you know they’d do it again.

    I’d like to see the Euros do plug nozzle designs like Bono wanted. Do something no one else is doing.