What man and machines are achieving in space is truly impressive. At the launch sites and at home, millions of spectators watch rockets blasting off into the great unknown. But few outsiders get the chance to see what makes all this successful space travel possible. At Bremen Airport-City, rocket engineers work on projects such as the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. We watched experts from the Ariane Group at work.
When it comes to engineering, the aerospace sector is in a league of its own. On a tour of the Ariane Group facility in Bremen we witnessed this for ourselves.
Bremen is the European centre of excellence for manned spaceflight, space robotics and launch vehicles. Here, around 1,000 people are making a significant contribution to global aerospace projects such as the International Space Station, the Columbus laboratory module, the unmanned ATV cargo spacecraft and the Ariane 5 launch vehicle, which provides Europe with independent access to outer space.
Ariane 5’s upper stage comes from Bremen
The Ariane Group currently manufactures the complete upper stage of the Ariane 5 in Bremen. Together with the VEB (Vehicle Equipment Bay), which represents the ‘brains’ of the rocket, the upper stage forms the rocket’s upper composite. It is fuelled by high-energy liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen. By August 2016, Airbus Group had achieved 72 consecutive successful launches of the Ariane 5. A fully integrated upper stage leaves the integration hall in Bremen up to eight times a year.
The integration of the upper composite takes place in a clean room with a strict limit on the number of dust particles in the air – in this particular case 100,000 per cubic metre. During integration, even the presence of foreign bodies that are only a fraction of a millimetre in size could have disastrous consequences. As it’s not possible to stage test flights before the actual launch of the rocket to ensure that everything is working correctly, the cleanliness of the integration room is very important, along with endless testing. The Ariane launch vehicles take off from the European spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana.