Pushing back the limits of technology in the conquest of space
Meeting the challenges of this new chapter of space
60 years of successful service to the space odyssey
A driver of continuous progress, the space industry is currently undergoing a renaissance; a profound transformation into a more competitive environment as it enters the commercial era. Private companies can understand the wonderful challenges and rewards that space provides, so they are among the primary contributors to this dynamic. They are focusing on the production of telecommunications data (internet, GPS, etc.), terrestrial imaging (digital agriculture, smart cities, smart energy, etc.), climate observation, and the prevention of natural risks.
Air Liquide is ready to meet the challenges of this new chapter in the history of space. After 60 years of technological developments on the Ariane, Melfi, Planck, Herschel, Curiosity, and ExoMars programs, we have the ambition, the will and the expertise to engage in all the major new international challenges: electric propulsion, more competitive launch vehicles, the constellation of satellites, life in space, and more.
Cryogenic tanks since 1979
Preparing the next generation of launch vehicles
We were involved in the design phase for Ariane 1 to Ariane 5's cryogenic propellant tanks, and right up to the point that they were fitted onto the European rockets. The development of these tanks, as well as the insulation of certain equipment, like the Pressure Control Units or the level gauges, has enabled us to make spectacular technological advances. We now work alongside the European Space Agency (ESA) in our capacity as cryogenics expert. With Euro Cryospace, a strategic partnership between Air Liquide and Airbus Defence and Space, we offer innovative solutions that are a taste of the concepts of the future Ariane 6 launch vehicle, which will have reignition capability.
- 360 cryogenic tanks since 1979
- 6 generations of European launch vehicles
- 150 kg additional payload capacity thanks to the LHESS
liters capacity for Herschel's helium tank
The number of objects in orbit is set to increase over the coming decade. As well as 400 new satellites dedicated to Earth observation and 300 others dedicated to telecommunications, people are already talking about launching over 1,000 additional satellites, making the largest constellation ever to orbit the Earth!
Thanks to its expertise in orbital cryogenics, storage systems and gas distribution, Air Liquide will be part of this revolution. The group has already been able to meet a wide variety of needs like the preservation of biological samples in the International Space Station’s MELFI cryo-freezer, the observation of the universe's background thermal radiation with the Planck and Herschel satellites, and the cooling of observation satellites' infrared detectors. By providing our expertise and adding our technologies to the Curiosity and ExoMars rovers, we are also part of the effort to explore Mars.
- 80,000 revolutions per minute for the last 10 years for the MELFI turbo-engine
- 0.1 Kelvin: a tenth of a degree above absolute zero for Planck's detector
- 2,400 liters capacity for Herschel's helium tank, kept at 1.6 Kelvin
Ariane cryogenic launch complexes in Kourou
Air Liquide has been preparing, testing, and optimizing the installation and connections of cryogenic lines for launch pads since the 1980s. We operate on the space launch sites of Kourou in Guyana, in Cape Canaveral in the USA, Tanegashima in Japan, as well as Xichang and Wenchang in China.
We supplied the liquid hydrogen and oxygen plants that produce the cryogenic fluids for launch vehicles in Kourou. Several Air Liquide employees are based on the Guiana Space Center in order to supply liquid hydrogen and oxygen for the launch vehicles' propulsion, liquid nitrogen for inerting, and the helium that is indispensable for pressurization, cool-down, and cleaning. They also deal with equipment maintenance for Arianespace and the CNES.
We also offer HELIAL helium and HYLIAL hydrogen liquefiers for these space centers. The HELIAL in Kourou, for example, liquefies helium gas vapor that evaporates during storage.
Moreover, we have designed simulation chambers and test-beds on the ground that reproduce the extreme space conditions that satellites and their components are subjected to.
- 2 Ariane cryogenic launch complexes in Kourou
- Several kilometers of vacuum-insulated cryogenic lines to fill Ariane's tanks with propellants on the launch pad
Air Liquide offers industrial and scientific customers the use of a test center that is unique in Europe, with the expertise of a dedicated team at their disposal. This 6-hectare site, located near Grenoble, was built in order to test, inspect, and qualify equipment for the needs of the space industry. Our team has acquired a high level of expertise in all kinds of studies, from the characterization of materials, to thermal cycle analysis, cryogenic trials, and the simulation of thermal conditions on the ground, during take-off, and in space…
Air Liquide also conducts trials outside its test center, as was the case with the pulse tube cryocooler, which was inspected in an ultra-clean room. Sometimes experiments can even take place very far from Sassenage, like with Cryofenix trials, which were carried out within the polar circle, in Sweden.
State-of-the-art testing centers
Human in space
Setting up a base and living in space is no longer just a pipe dream. The European Space Agency may have plans to set up a permanent base on the moon, which could eventually replace the International Space Station and be used as a stepping-stone to Mars. Solutions for putting this incredible project into action already exist. What would we need in order to live far from Earth? We would need to produce and store energy, to purify air, and to produce fuel to enable spacecraft to return to Earth…
At Air Liquide, we are thinking seriously about how we can contribute to establishing human life in space. We have already developed all the technological building blocks required for this new adventure for terrestrial applications: fuel cells, air purification units, propellant production systems, etc. All that remains is to adapt them for use in space. Thanks to 60 years' experience in the conquest of space, we are up to the challenge. We have all the necessary expertise, recognized the world over, and are ready to test these technologies on the “Lunar Analogue” facility, under construction at the European Astronaut Centre in Germany. Today, living on the moon is much more than just a dream. Tomorrow, it will become a reality.
Going beyond earth
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