Control valves from ARCA, a specialist in industrial process control, are playing a key role inthe European Space Agency’s generation 6 ARIANE rocket launchers at its launch pad located near Kourou in French Guiana. They also feature in the SpaceX launch site, Starbase in South Texas.
The new ARIANE generation 6 rocket launcher, with a height of 63 metres and a starting mass of 530 tons, is propelled into space by two million kW of thrust. Hydrogen and oxygen are required as fuel so that the launch weight of almost 800 tons can be accelerated to 10 400 m/s and brought into an interplanetary trajectory. At that speed, the distance between Frankfurt and New York can be covered in 10 minutes. The huge flow of fuel takes only a few minutes, and a reliable supply at huge pressure has to be guaranteed.
ARCA’s ECOTROL control valves can handle these stresses. They are installed in the fuel filling system, where they ensure that helium, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen are fed reliably into the fuel tanks of the rockets, meeting the highest safety requirements. The seal between the body and bonnet of the valves is guaranteed to be leakproof. The maintenance-free stem packing is made leaktight with a special PTFE compound, and is certified according to TA-Luft/ISO 15848. This packing consists of PTFE compound rings, making it resistant to extremes in operating pressures. The internal soft seal has also proven its reliability, even with the stresses of severe pressure fluctuations. Hydrogen is highly explosive, but ARCA valves and accessories can handle explosive atmospheres. The materials of construction are resistant to hydrogen embrittlement and the explosive decompression of sealing materials.
For the outdoor installation at the launch pad, the valves are provided with special corrosion protection, meeting corrosion class C5 according to EN ISO 12944. With this certified coating system, the valves are suitable for installation in coastal or offshore areas with a high salt load. In addition, an approved coating system is provided for use in areas at risk of explosion. All connecting elements for the compressed air supply to the pneumatic multi-spring actuator type 812 are made of austenitic material.
The composition of the alloys results in outstanding corrosion resistance of the material, making it particularly suitable for use in coastal and offshore areas. The intelligent, explosion-proof ARCAPRO type 827A positioner is vibration proof. It is mounted directly on the yoke of the valve without external piping, and provides for maximum operating safety.
ARCA’s range of valves for ARIANE 6 is rounded off by highly sophisticated valves and cryogenic components from WEKA. These also meet the stringent quality requirements for safety in the fuel filling system, and underline ARCA’s claim to engineering excellence.
The SpaceX launch site in South Texas, also called Starbase, is where SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk envisions manned missions to Mars to be launched. It is still under construction, but is meanwhile being used as a test centre for the SpaceX Starship spacecraft to place satellites in orbit, and to carry supplies to the International Space Station or a future base on the moon.
Its lower stage, called Super-Heavy, is around 70 metres high, and is to be propelled by 29 Raptor rocket engines. The upper stage is 50 metres high, and is to be propelled by six Raptor rocket engines. The installation of an air distillation plant for the generation of oxygen began there in early 2021.
ARCA supplies SpaceX with ECOTROL blow-off valves for the four main air compressors, which are integrated into the air distillation plants from LINDE for the generation of pure oxygen, one of the main components of rocket fuel. The valves have to protect the compressors upstream of the pumps during stress situations in the system. By opening in less than a second, the ARCO valves prevent a stall at the compressor blades and any consequent damage to the compressor. Their thermodynamic power is almost 10 700 kW, with a volumetric flow rate of around 68 800 Nm³/h. The compressor draws in atmospheric air and compresses it to 34 bar in six compressor stages.
The ARCA valves and actuators for Starship are manufactured to the maximum corrosion class C5 according to EN ISO 12944. The connecting element for the compressed air supply to the pneumatic ARCADRIVE (type 811), and the accessories for optimisation of the actuation time, are made of austenitic material.
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