Overcoming Ariane’s quirks and foibles

The Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department is providing help in overcoming the friction and lubrication problems which sometimes arise in Ariane, the European space rocket. The department’s speciality consists of testing mechanical equipment at very low temperatures.

At a time when 50 years of Sputnik are being celebrated, the complexity of the technological systems deployed in placing a satellite around the Earth has a tendency to slip out of people’s minds. Ariane, the European satellite launcher, has not been spared some technological difficulties which have sometimes led to flight setbacks, although happily these have been few in number. Of the 176 flights in which ESA (European Space Agency) and Arianespace have been involved in since December 1979, Ariane has stumbled on nine occasions. Eight lapses were due to mechanical problems within the booster rocket and one to computing error.

The history of Ariane has been studded with incidents linked to foibles of a mechanical nature. Most of them were diagnosed and solutions to them were found during test flights. The University of Liège has contributed to these tests since the end of 1980s thanks to the expertise the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department (within the Applied Sciences Faculty) has acquired in thermodynamics, especially through research carried out in tribology and in lubrication. It has been equipped, with the help of the European Commission and the Walloon Region, with a cryogenics test site with oxygen and nitrogen atmospheres. It is within the confines of this properly secured infrastructure that tests on the delicate equipment on the Vulcan-2 booster rocket, with which the Ariane 5 launcher is equipped, are regularly carried out.

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