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P80 Composite Motor Test at Kourou

03 December 2006

On 30 November, the P80 motor which is to power Vega’s first stage underwent its maiden static firing on the same test pad used to demonstrate Ariane 5’s solid booster stages in Kourou, French Guiana.

The Solid Booster Test Bench (BEAP) is the unique test pad at the Guiana Space Centre, Europe’s Spaceport. Since 1993, it has seen the successful testing of Ariane 5 Solid Booster Stage (EAP) motors. Recently, the BEAP has been modified in order to accommodate a different kind of booster for static firing. While it shares its three metre diameter with Ariane 5's booster stages, the P80 motor is much shorter than the 31.2-metre-tall EAP – it is only 11.7 metres high. Nevertheless, it is the largest European solid rocket motor of its kind.

The most obvious change is to the booster casing. It is made of filament wound graphite epoxy, a technology largely used on smaller motors for civilian launchers as well as ballistic missiles. Much lighter than the stainless steel currently used on Ariane boosters, it provides a dramatic increase in payload capacity.

Other improvements in the motor include a new design of igniter with a simplified architecture, also using a carbon-fibre case.

The P80 is not simply the new motor developed for the first stage of ESA’s Vega small launch vehicle. It is a multidisciplinary demonstrator to validate advanced technologies which could later be applied to Ariane 5’s boosters.

“There are lots of challenges on this test”, says Stefano Bianchi Vega Programme Manager at ESA. “As on every maiden firing, there is also a lot to learn.”