• Satellite Evolution Group

Pangea Aerospace successfully hot fire tests the first MethaLox aerospike engine in the world

Pangea Aerospace, a company from Barcelona (Spain), has fired several times the first MethaLox aerospike engine in the world in their first try, at DLR Lampoldshausen facilities.

The company has reached a major milestone for rocket propulsion, after the success of the hot fire test campaign of its aerospike engine. Pangea Aerosapce has ignited and hot fired several times a 20kN regeneratively cooled aerospike engine, called DemoP1.

The engine is extremely low cost to produce, as it is completely additively manufactured (metallic 3D printing) in only two pieces. Pangea Aerospace has been able to improve solve the thermal problem of this kind of engine (they are very difficult to cool down) thanks to additive manufacturing and new materials, such as GR Cop42 (a NASA developed copper alloy). For Adrià Argemí, CEO and cofounder of the company it is a major milestone “we have unlocked aerospike technology at a very low cost. We have been able to hot fire successfully several times the same engine, demonstrating that the technology works and that we are ready for further challenges.”

Furthermore, Pangea Aerospace has won a contract from CNES (French Space Agency) to start a study on how its proprietary technology could be applied to larger engines, such as the ones powering Ariane or other heavy engines. The company has also received interest from other commercial organizations and space agencies.

Aerospike: a better performing engine

The aerospike engine has been the saint grail for rocket scientists since its was first theorized in the 50’s. Aerospike engines use an V-shaped nozzle to direct the exhaust gases that propel the rocket. As the nozzle is “open”, exhaust gases are always optimally expanded (the changing ambient pressure acts as a virtual nozzle). This unique capability allows for 15 percent increase in efficiency with respect to currently used bell nozzles. In other words, you need 15 percent less fuel to bring the same mass to orbit.

Ilustración 1 – Comparative between a bell nozzle rocket engine (left) and an aerospike rocket engine (right)

Thanks to additive manufacturing (metallic 3D printing), Pangea Aerospace has designed a new regenerative cooling system using both propellants. Liquid oxygen and liquid methane (both in cryogenic state) go through cooling channels before being ignited in the combustion chamber, thus allowing to cool down the engine and avoid its melting. To help in solving the thermal challenge, Pangea Aerospace has worked with Aenium, a 3D printing company based in Valladolid, as they share the exclusive capabilities in Europe for GRCop42, a copper alloy developed by NASA in 2019 for additively manufactured rocket engine combustion chambers. As Miguel Ampudia,CEO of Aenium, states: “thanks to GRCop42 and Aenium’s technology, we have been able to manufacture this engine, which have one of the most complex designs. We are really proud to be able to manufacture this together with Pangea Aerospace, as it will help powering tomorrow’s space endeavours.”

Since it was first theorized, the aerospike engine has been largely sought after by several agencies and organizations, but no aerospike engine has ever flown. NASA was about to make it in the 80’s and 90’s, as they performed tens of hot fire testings. However, the projects were cancelled due to different reasons and those engines never flew. Furthermore, the cost of manufacturing such engines was really high and its manufacturing methods increased the risk of the hardware.

Pangea Aerospace has raised more than 3 million euros from different venture capital firms, such as Inveready, Primo Space, E2MC, Dozen investments and CDTI Innvierte. The company has also received grants and public funding for around 3,5 million euro to research on its technologies and today employs around 20 people.