DLR to Cooperate with Spanish Startup Pangea Aerospace on Developing Aerospike Engine

European research and technology test bench P8. (Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0))
  • DLR supports the increasing demand for engine tests for new, innovative propulsion technologies in space travel.
  • DLR and the Spanish start-up Pangea Aerospace agree on a collaboration. The focus is on tests with a technology demonstrator of an additively manufactured aerospike engine from October 2021.
  • At the Lampoldshausen site, DLR offers a test infrastructure that is unique in Europe for space propulsion systems of all sizes and types.

LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (DLR PR) — In order to ensure Europe’s independent and competitive access to space, the Federal Government is also relying on efficient start-ups. With their ideas and visions, they can accelerate the development of new technologies in the carrier market. Against this background, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) at the Lampoldshausen site has signed a contract with the Spanish start-up Pangea Aerospace in the summer of 2021.

“With the testing of a new space propulsion system on behalf of the Spanish start-up Pangea Aerospace, the DLR accompanies and supports the development of future launch systems from Europe with its expertise at the Lampoldshausen location,” explains Prof. Karsten Lemmer, member of the DLR Board of Management for Innovation, Transfer and scientific infrastructures. “The cooperation with Pangea Aerospace is a first for us on a European level, which I am particularly pleased about.”

The common goal is to test several aerospike engines. This is an innovative engine concept that can improve the efficiency of rocket engines by 15 percent. For this purpose, from October 2021 hot run tests with several developed by Pangea Aerospace and on the European research and technology test bench P8 installed technology demonstrators. Overheating tests are comprehensive functional tests – they are an important step in preparing for a first flight. The P8 test stand is one of the major research facilities at DLR and is unique in Europe. With the test bench it is possible, among other things, to carry out development tests with smaller engines or engine components.

Construction drawing of aerospike engine. (Credit: Pangea Aerospace)

Pioneering new approaches in engine design

“By working with start-ups, we can make the next generation of missiles more efficient and competitive. The micro-launcher segment is particularly interesting. These are small carriers that bring payloads of a few hundred kilograms into near-Earth orbit. Innovative drive technologies are often used here. We at DLR in Lampoldshausen are ideally positioned to test these, ”says Prof. Stefan Schlechtriem, Director of the DLR Institute for Space Propulsion.

“The space industry is in a state of upheaval. She is looking for new ways to become more competitive. Aerospike propulsion has been a very promising solution for rocket propulsion for decades. But only today is it possible to develop and build these technologies – thanks to new materials and thanks to greater freedom in design that allow additive manufacturing processes. It’s great to work with DLR and to be able to ignite the world’s first additively manufactured aerospike engine, ”says Adrià Argemi, Managing Director of Pangea Aerospace. 

The two-stage “MESO” rocket, which is supposed to bring up to 150 kilograms of payload into near-earth orbit, has such an aerospike engine with a nozzle in the shape of a spike. As a result, it can adapt to different flight altitudes in a much more flexible manner. This engine design can significantly change space propulsion thanks to its higher efficiency, its reusability and the very cost-effective and rapid production. To do this, the start-up relies on state-of-the-art 3-D metal printing techniques and materials. They work with a material called GRCop42, a copper alloy in powder form that has been optimized by NASA for the additive manufacturing of combustion chambers for rocket engines. Liquid oxygen and liquid methane are used as fuel.

DLR competence: Know-how and flexible test systems for competitive launch vehicles

The global space market is more dynamic and diverse than ever. In addition to the European Ariane launcher, micro-launchers are increasingly adding to the range of launch options for loads of different weights. Micro-launchers often come from young companies and have a much shorter development time. With extensive know-how and a flexible test infrastructure, DLR is ready to support these processes. As a European research and test center for liquid drives, it has ideal framework conditions and flexible systems. 

“Our test systems already cover the entire portfolio for engine tests of all types and sizes. They are also available to small and medium-sized companies as well as start-ups, “said Schlechtriem. “With every test on one of our test stands, we jointly gain valuable new knowledge. These in turn flow into the development of new engines. This makes us a unique and valuable partner for institutional and private space travel.”