On September 22, the Italian space company Avio announced the successful performance of a 340-second continuous firing test of the new LOX-CH Engine M10 DM2, with the capacity to change multiple times the LOX-CH mixture ratio. The M10 Engine test bench, developed in the context of the Vega E (Vega Evolution) rocket program promoted by ESA, is located at the Space Propulsion Test Facility of Salto di Quirra in Sardinia, Italy.
🚀 #Avio is proud to announce that the new LOX-CH Engine #M10 DM2 successfully completed a 340 secs continuous firing test. The new #VegaE’s upper stage engine performed as expected also changing multiple times LOX-CH mixture ratio. Video's speed is 4X #space #spaceiscloser pic.twitter.com/0ry6CjsMYh— Avio (@Avio_Group) September 22, 2023
This last test is part of the second ongoing development test campaign (DM2) for the M10. Indeed on September 8th, Avio reported the positive execution of the first five firing tests of the engine, including optimum performance achieved in the 45 seconds of the test at max pressure and oxigen-rich mixture ratio.
🚀 #AVIO has completed the first five firing tests of DM2 model of M10, the 100kn thrust liquid oxygen/methane engine that will power #VegaE. Optimal performance achieved in 45sec tests at max pressure and Ox rich mixture ratio. #spaceiscloser #space pic.twitter.com/ifaDSmdp44— Avio (@Avio_Group) September 8, 2023
The first test campaign (DM1) was completed last year, achieving 24 ignitions for a total of 1300 seconds, with 200 seconds as the maximum duration of a single ignition.
“The successful testing of the M10 engine represents a historic moment for our Company. Avio demonstrates that has an innovative and more sustainable technology for the cryogenic propulsion of future launchers. Starting from this technological basis, Avio will thus be able to develop a new generation of efficient and competitive products. I congratulate to the Avio and ESA team for the quality of the work done to reach these first important goals “— Giulio Ranzo, CEO of Avio
Avio’s next steps
The data collected from the first half of the year 2023 show a substantial increase in net cash, both for the business and defense space sectors. Profits are improved compared to the first half of 2022 thanks to a lower impact from energy costs on industrial operations.
If the financial situation is stable, there is more uncertainty for the upcoming launches. The next flight of Vega C is pending the results of ESA’s Independent Enquiry Commission related to the anomaly reported during the static test of the Zefiro 40 engine. The failed test succeeded the failure of Vega C V22 in December 2022. Next Vega C launch is now expected to happen before December 2024.
The Vega launch, expected on October 4, will be the last European launch of 2023.
The Vega E, unlike the Vega C, will only have three stages. The first two, the P120C and the Zefiro 40 will be shared with the Vega C. While the last stage, the M10 (10 ton of thrust), will be able to re-ignite and the thrust will be modulable. This will allow precision maneuvers mainly for placing different kinds of satellites into orbit, but also to save propellant weight which will be beneficial for increasing the weight of the payload. These are characteristics of fundamental importance in facing the international market.
For Avio, this represents a new occasion to bring to the market a launcher with a final stage equipped with a propulsion system different from the Avum+ mounted on the Vega C. This latter engine is indeed manufactured by a Ukrainian company, which in the medium term could have obvious difficulties in producing these engines.
The main objectives of the VEGA E program, agreed upon and drawn up by the ESA Council at the Ministerial level, held in December 2016, are:
- Achieving cost reduction of the VEGA C launch system, while maintaining the same payload capabilities, employing highly affordable LOX-Methane upper-stage solutions, and adopting a new engine with innovative expander cycle technology;
- The removal of toxic propellants from the launch vehicle design will reduce the potential threat of future regulations prohibiting the use of hydrazine in space applications.
M 10 ENGINE
The VEGA Evolution Preparation Program placed its focus on the development of a new cryogenic LOx/CH4 engine fed with turbopumps, named M10 Engine. It is a cryogenic liquid propellant engine, which combines liquid oxygen and liquid methane and will be placed in the last stage of the Vega E launcher. At normal ignition point and in steady-state, the engine has to provide 98 kN of thrust, with a propellant mixture ratio of 3.4. The minimum specific impulse needed is 362 seconds.
Oxygen-methane propulsion is recognized as highly promising for the next generation of operational rockets. A crucial evaluation of this kind of engine centers on the thermal characteristics of the thrust chamber as the flow of combustion gases will generate wall temperatures and heat flux levels that can significantly affect the life of this component. Additionally, the heat transfer occurring within the thrust chamber has a direct influence on the overall performance of the rocket engine.
For this reason, efficient strategies for minimizing heat transfer on the hot-gas side were developed, and include adjusting the mixture ratio, implementing film cooling, and applying surface coatings (both zirconia and nickel plating have been tested). Mixture ratio bias tends to perform better than film cooling due to its ability to cool a more extensive section of the chamber.
The engine, manufactured with the use of additive layer manufacturing technologies (ALM), utilizes an expander closed-cycle system and incorporates a regenerative-cooled single chamber that can be restarted as needed. Combustion is initiated through a torch igniter, which is supplied with high-pressure stored gaseous hydrogen and oxygen.