Ever further, more ambitious and more innovative
The Ariane launch vehicle, the MELFI cryofreezer, the Planck satellite, the ExoMars rover… After 55 years of success in the conquest of space, Air Liquide is still driven by the same passion to meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive and ambitious adventure! We are driven to always go further and be more innovative than before.
At the end of last year, for MELFI's(1) ten-year anniversary, Air Liquide received some high-profile visitors including the President of the CNES, Jean-Yves Le Gall; the Director of the ESA's European Astronauts' Center, Frank De Winne; the DLR's Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics' Head of Energy System Integration, Andre Suchaneck; all welcomed by François Darchis, who is a Member of the Group's Executive Committee. MELFI’s exceptional longevity proves the reliability of the technologies developed by Air Liquide and the added value of its teams' expertise.
(1) "Minus Eighty-degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS" ou Congélateur de laboratoire à – 80 °C pour l’ISS
A village on the moon?
Beyond past achievements that are used on current projects, the group is looking to the future and focusing its expertise on new challenges in space exploration. Among the most ambitious projects that Air Liquide is working on are solutions that enable humans to live far from Earth, on a permanent lunar base. This is not a dream; it is already a project of the European Space Agency (ESA). Frank de Winne mentioned the project during the round table organized by Air Liquide on December 21, 2017, saying "We will build homes to test various operational concepts. For this, we will need energy, whereas there are no fossil fuels on the moon. Photovoltaic energy is the only available source of energy, and we will need to be able to store it, because the moon is only illuminated by the sun 14 of every 28 days. We are looking for a sustainable, safe, and reliable energy source for our lunar base. Energy produced by lightweight systems that operate autonomously, and which can be used for the needs of homes, for mobility, communication, and to carry out scientific experiments. We believe hydrogen is our best option, especially as it can be found on the moon." Back on Earth, Air Liquide is a precursor in the hydrogen energy sector. Now these technologies just need to be adapted for use in space. Thanks to the expertise acquired over 55 years spent in the conquest of space, the challenge is within our capabilities. This is where the desire for cooperation between Air Liquide, the ESA, and the DLR came from.
"We are looking for a sustainable, safe, and reliable energy source for our lunar base"
Ariane Program: Next steps
Of all the space projects that Air Liquide is associated with, the Ariane program is one of the most emblematic. The group has been involved in every step of the saga, since December 25, 1979 when the very first 1st generation Ariane launch vehicle sent the first Air Liquide tank into space.
"As a long-time partner, Air Liquide has developed unique expertise in space cryogenics, which enables it to contribute to the Ariane program at every phase of the launch vehicles' development." - Member of the Group's Executive Committee, François Darchis.
30,000 LITERS OF LIQUID HYDROGEN and 70 tons OF LIQUID OXYGEN AND NITROGEN are supplied daily in Kourou.
The group has received confirmation that it would be involved in the Ariane 6 program, whose inaugural flight is due in 2020. Air Liquide will supply the cryogenic equipment for the future European launch vehicle's propulsion system, and will build the cryogenic fluid systems for Ariane ELA4's new launch complex in French Guiana's space center.
Ariane 6: Mission accomplished in Kourou too!
It was 25 years ago that Air Liquide built a liquid hydrogen plant in Kourou, to produce the propellant for Ariane 5's thrusters. That was the genesis of Air Liquide’s Guiana Space Center, which also operates a plant for the distillation of gas in the air, to supply liquid oxygen to the launch vehicle and the nitrogen required for fluid processes and safety at the Guiana Space Center. Air Liquide's space center in Guiana also supplies compressed air and helium(2), which are used to clean the launch vehicles among other things.
Air Liquide's teams also transfer all these fluids from the plants to the launch vehicles, via unique semi-mobile tanks. They operate and conduct maintenance on the related ground resources and they build, qualify and recondition the tubes that connect Ariane 5 to the ground equipment. And finally, Air Liquide helps to prepare the satellites by supplying conditioned nitrogen and helium in bottles.
(2) Helium is also used to pressurize Ariane 5's cryogenic tanks.
"We are determined to be competitive in the commercial launch vehicle industry," explains Operations Manager, Dominique Boutellier. "We are already working on adapting our production facilities and our services to the challenge of Ariane 6. Air Liquide's Guiana Space Center is providing its expertise to help build the future launch area. Our 44 employees are willing and ready to achieve this incredible feat!"
A constellation of satellites
Air Liquide also intends to contribute to another equally ambitious project: the transition of the world's satellite fleet to electric propulsion, with 400 new observation satellites, 300 major telecommunications satellites and plans for a possible constellation of thousands of satellites. In order to do this, the group will provide its expertise in xenon. Indeed, within five years we estimate that a quarter of geostationary satellites will use ion thrusters. By using Xenon as a propellant, satellites can cut their weight in half. A big plus for the space industry! Air Liquide will be involved at several levels: supplying the gas, producing xenon filling carts for satellites and designing micro flow regulation valves. This micro-valve is currently being adapted for electrical propulsion with the CNES but micro-valves are already part of a large-scale project: ExoMars. They regulate the flow of helium from the chromatograph to the rover. Weighing just a matter of grams, they were a real miniaturization challenge.
“Space has always been a driver of innovation and technological development for Air Liquide. The Group capitalizes on 50 years of history in space cryogenics, its capacity for innovation and its presence in the majority of space centers, to provide comprehensive "end-to-end" solutions for launch vehicles, launch pads, cryo-coolers for terrestrial observation, electric propulsion, and exploration, thereby helping to meet the challenges of our time.” Bertrand Baratte, Space Business Unit Director, Air Liquide advanced Technologies
"Active" cooling for space and terrestrial observation
To produce cold in a satellite in space, where every square inch is crucial, active cooling using pulse tube cryocoolers is the most appropriate technique. Better yet, this technology developed by Air Liquide has another advantage, namely stable cryogenic cooling capacity, very low levels of vibrations, exceptional reliability, and a practically infinite functional life. With no moving parts in the cold end, the pulse tubes do not suffer from wear and tear. This technology was chosen to cool the instruments' focal plane on observation and weather satellites. This means 12 pulse tube cryocoolers will join six MTG(6) satellites in geostationary orbit at 36,000 km above the Earth, for 20 years starting in 2017. They will cool the new generation of atmospheric sounders, which provide very precise meteorological data. The first satellite will be sent into orbit in 2021. Air Liquide will pursue the development of its range of pulse tube cryocoolers in order to best meet international demand in the fields of science and terrestrial observation.
(6) Meteosat Third Generation
Air Liquide's expertise dedicated to launch vehicles
From innovation to industrialization worlwide thanks to the Air Liquide group's expertise and international presence
3 questions to ...
Director of EuroCryospace, Christine Jauffret
Can you describe EuroCryospace and its activities to us?
EuroCryospace was created by Air Liquide and Airbus Safran Launchers, to study, develop and build the tanks for Ariane 5 launch vehicles with cryogenic propulsion: the hydrogen and oxygen tanks from the main stage and the hydrogen tanks from the upper stage that had to be replaced for the new version of the launch vehicle, the Ariane 5 Midlife Evolution (ME). We also produce the cryogenic supply and pressurization lines for the propellants and the engines. Over the years, EuroCryospace has built more than 90 tanks for the main stage and more than 70 for the upper stage. In early May, Ariane 5 recorded its 78th consecutive successful launch.
What has been EuroCryospace's contribution to the success of the Ariane program?
Certain studies with the CNES and the ESA, and the development of Ariane 5ME's cryogenic tank led to real technological breakthroughs. We have registered 25 patents since the project began, in particular in the treatment of surfaces and insulation and partitioning processes, which are essential for preventing the vaporization of liquid propellants. These technological advances will also benefit the Ariane 6 program. As part of the HX campaign with Air Liquide, 14 new technologies were developed, dedicated to giving the launch vehicles of the future re-ignition capabilities in space.
You have been managing director of EuroCryospace since January 2016. What are the latest milestones you have passed and what projects are you working on?
We are now focused on production for Ariane 5, following the discontinuation of the Ariane 5ME program. That will be until 2021, when Ariane 6 arrives. A batch of 18 tanks and cryogenic lines is due. Arianespace has increased the number of launches in the last two years, which has obliged us to accelerate production. In parallel, the agency has challenged us to lower costs, faced with competition from private aerospace manufacturers. So we have organized a continuous improvement policy on production flows. To do this, we created teams responsible for optimizing processes and we have reinforced in-service support for our tools to constantly improve efficiency. I am positive. EuroCryospace has highly qualified staff, who are proud to serve excellence in space exploration!
The tank for Ariane 5ME's main stage is
23 meters long and 5,4 meters in diameter
170 detached EuroCryospace employees,
either from Air Liquide or from Astrium Safran Launchers
© ESA, L. Lelong , Ginette, R.Guillard