+49 (0) 421 9600-10
20 November 2018 - Wolfgang Heumer

Space exploration takes flight in Bremen

Aerospace
Upper stage of the Ariane 6 launch vehicle to be built in Bremen

Production of the upper stage of the new Ariane 6 launch vehicle will soon begin in a new production hall near Bremen Airport. The upper stage is the heart and the brain of the rocket, whose maiden flight is scheduled for July 2020.

Ralf Schleith at MT Aerospace
Ralf Schleith is responsible for the manufacture of the hydrogen tanks of the European Ariane 6 launch vehicle at MT Aerospace. © WFB/Focke Strangmann

Tolerances in the range of tenths of a millimetre

The size of the building on the edge of Bremen Airport is impressive. Just over a dozen tennis courts could be accommodated under the roof of the structure, which rises five storeys into the sky. But there is only a single machine in the hall – about six meters high, four meters wide, and weighing just over 40 tonnes. It is hard to believe that this colossus is designed for intricate work. “We work with tolerances in the range of tenths of a millimetre,” says Ralf Schleith, who manages production of the tanks for the European Ariane 5 launch vehicle at MT Aerospace. This vast hall in Bremen is his latest workplace – the machine will soon produce the first tanks for the upper stage of the new Ariane 6, which is set for its maiden space flight in 2020.

Centre of excellence for rocket manufacturing

The upper stages of the Ariane launch vehicles have been manufactured in Bremen for over 20 years. “We refer to it as integration, as it is here that all the components from around Europe are put together into a complete system,” Schleith explains. The expertise acquired by the engineers and technicians in Bremen secured the contract for the successor model Ariane 6. The upper stage is the heart and the brain of every launcher: after a successful launch into space, it provides the necessary thrust to get the satellites on board into the desired position in orbit. It also contains the control systems that keeps the rocket exactly on course.

Work is under way near Bremen Airport on Europe’s new Ariane 6 launch vehicle
Work is under way near Bremen Airport on Europe’s new Ariane 6 launch vehicle © WFB/Focke Strangmann

“Ariane 6 is a completely new system”

The Franco-German ArianeGroup, which develops and builds the rocket on behalf of the European Space agency (ESA), is in charge of the project. Its most important German partner is MT Aerospace based in Augsburg. 70 per cent of the company is owned by Bremen-based OHB Systems AG and 30 per cent by the Bavarian entrepreneur Hans Steininger. In addition to manufacturing the tanks and other metal structures for the main and upper stages, MT also has a key role in the construction of the launch facility in Kourou in French Guiana. MT has delivered pre-assembled upper stage tanks to Bremen for the 100 Ariane 5s that have launched so far; in the future, final assembly will take place in Bremen. Despite the decades of experience gained since 1996, MT and ArianeGroup cannot rest on their laurels: “The Ariane 6 is a completely new system, and its production has also been developed completely from scratch,” Schleith says.

40 per cent lower costs and double the number of units

It has only been four years since the ministers for economic affairs and for science and research of the ESA member states commissioned the European Space Agency with building a new launcher. They specified that Ariane 6 must cost at least 40 per cent less than the current Ariane 5. Furthermore, production had to be doubled from currently five to at least eleven units a year. The ESA ministers also transferred the financial risk of marketing the rocket to the industry and committed only to the purchase of five units a year at a fixed price of €70 million per rocket. “This was a very ambitious commission,” Schleith says. “After all, we had to develop the rocket and the manufacturing process at the same time, and within a very tight time frame.”

A piece of European space history

The project has obviously been a success so far – while the production plant for the Ariane main stage is still under construction in Les Mureaux in France, MT and ArianeGroup are already gradually ramping up the integration of the upper stages in Bremen. The two partners literally work side by side in Bremen’s Airport City. MT manufactures the hydrogen and oxygen tanks at its factory and then hands them over to ArianeGroup next door, where the tanks are finished, insulated and cleaned before they are assembled. Although the hall complex looks brand new, it is actually a piece of European space history: “It was built for the construction of Ariane 5 ME, which was originally planned as the successor to today’s Ariane 5,” says Schleith. The MT hall was already fully equipped with machines, but in the end only a single tank was built as a prototype. Before series production could begin, the European Space Agency rejected the 5 ME plans and replaced them with Ariane 6.

Automated manufacturing process uses new welding technique

The isolated blue machine in MT’s huge hall is symbolic of the kind of innovations that the change of course demanded by the policymakers has inspired in the space industry. When a car manufacturer revamps its model range, it usually replaces the tools, but not all of its machinery. The Bremen-based aerospace engineers, however, had to part with the equipment installed for the Ariane 5ME – some of them maybe with a heavy heart, as the new machines had only been switched on a few times. But it does mean that the technicians can now work with a particularly sophisticated manufacturing process for the Ariane 6. “Parts prefabricated in Augsburg are welded together in Bremen to form complete tanks,” explains Schleith. The welding method used for the Ariane 6 is friction stir welding. “The sheets are welded under very high pressure, with heat generated by friction and a rotating tool ‘stirring’ the sheets together,” he explains.

produktion Ariane 6
It is hard to believe that this colossus – about six meters high, four meters wide, and weighing just over 40 tonnes – is designed for intricate work on the Ariane 6 launch vehicle © WFB/Focke Strangmann

Quality is paramount in space travel

While conventional welding always requires the addition of material, friction stir welding is performed without additional welding wire. The seam is of consistent quality from start to finish and the entire welding process is fully documented by recording all parameters such as pressure, friction speed and temperature. Quality is paramount in space travel: “Rockets must be extremely reliable,” says Schleith. “That’s why we have to document every step exactly.” There is a special reinforced area in the floor of the huge hall where each tank is checked for its durability at full operating pressure.

The cap of the hydrogen tank is 5.4 metres wide

The reason why the decades-old technology of friction stir welding is only now being used in the aerospace industry is the same as the reason as why the hall at Bremen Airport is so large: “We are dealing with very large components that cannot simply be clamped into a vice,” says Schleith. The cap of the hydrogen tank, for example, is 5.4 metres wide, and the tank itself has a volume of 70 cubic metres. The oxygen tank is also anything but small – it measures 4.6 metres in diameter and has a volume of 30 cubic metres. “You have to somehow be able to move items with such dimensions,” says Schleith, looking up for a moment at the ceiling of the hall. “Well, OK, so we’ve probably got enough room here,” he says with a chuckle. Whether he is right or not will be revealed in a few weeks’ time. Once the largely automated integration in the neighbouring hall at ArianeGroup is complete, production of the new Ariane 6 will start in Bremen.


OHB Systems, Günther Hörbst, head of corporate communication, Tel.: +49 421 2020-9438, E-Mail: guenther.hoerbst@ohb.de

Investing in Bremen
20 May 2019
New incubator for space start-ups in Bremen

The ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) Northern Germany is a new beacon project for the aerospace sector in Bremen.

Bremen
22 November 2018
Tradition meets innovation

The state of Bremen covers 420 square kilometres and is home to around 670,000 people. Almost 22,000 companies provide more than 325,000 jobs. Below, we introduce some of the strong sectors that that make Bremen such an excellent business location.

Success stories
13 November 2018
Bremen is one of Germany’s leading industrial hubs

Bremen is Germany’s sixth-largest industrial hub in terms of revenue. Whether the sector is aerospace, food, automotive, shipping or steel production, Bremen has always been a major player.

Aerospace
2 October 2018
The space industry in Bremen: living and working in the Hanseatic city

Nowhere in Germany is bigger in the aerospace industry than Bremen. We spoke to Bremen-based scientists working on the space side of aerospace about their projects, their life in the city, and their tips on where to live and where to visit.

Science
27 September 2018
Bringing the universe to Bremen

Every year, the movers and shakers of the space industry gather at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). From 1 to 5 October, it will be Bremen’s turn to host the event. A team from the Center of Applied Space Technology and ...

Aerospace
26 July 2018
Surveying space

The exploration of celestial bodies, such as Mars, Mercury and the moon, requires detailed geological maps. An international research project is now laying the foundations for this. Bremen-based geologist Dr Angelo Pio Rossi is one of the initiators of the data project.

Investing in Bremen
17 July 2018
Major project on the key technology of lightweight construction is taking shape

The construction of the complex new EcoMaT research and technology centre at Airport-Stadt Bremen is at an advanced stage. Prospective tenants include Airbus and Testia, as well as a number of leading medium-sized businesses and scientific institutions. After the topping-out ceremony, work will get under way on the interior of the building.

Aerospace
31 May 2018
Women in Aerospace – an organization promoting women in space industry

Space is not just a man’s business. The global network Women in Aerospace (WIA) aims to increase women’s leadership opportunities and visibility in the space industry – also in Bremen. An interview with Antonella Sgambati und Michela Cantisani, coordinators of WIA Bremen.

Aerospace
22 May 2018
Artificial intelligence made in Bremen

Artificial intelligence isn’t just a matter of computer programming. It’s a challenging question: how can a robot successfully deal with real, unpredictable surroundings? For 30 years, solutions to this problem have been developed at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). This Bremen-based facility has been so successful that its employees are now founding their own company.

Investing in Bremen
24 April 2018
Bremen Airport-Stadt: where aerospace and business meet

Bremen Airport-Stadt is an international transport hub and a centre of excellence for the aerospace industry and for research and learning. It occupies a leading position among Germany’s airport locations. Here are ten benefits that Bremen Airport-Stadt offers.

Aerospace
27 February 2018
Moon living

One day, astronauts will live and carry out research on the moon – and even a colony on Mars is no longer the distant utopian dream it once was. But how will people be able to live in an extraterrestrial environment? The Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen is working on a solution.

Science
1 November 2017
Studying aerospace engineering in Bremen

Space technologies have advanced greatly in recent years, leading to increasing demands from the business and research sectors. To meet these requirements, Bremen University now offers unique master’s degrees in Space Engineering and Space Sciences and Technologies.

Aerospace
12 October 2017
Prepare for bake off

If astronauts want to get all the way to Mars one day, they’ll need food supplies for the journey. Part of the solution could be to grow their own grains and bake bread themselves. Bremen start-up Bake in Space is on the verge of making this vision a reality.

Maritime economy and logistics
27 September 2017
Where space and deep sea meet

The research alliance ROBEX is sending robots up active volcanoes and down into the deepest and darkest seas. Working across disciplines, the 120 scientists of the 16 institutes involved are breaking new ground on this project. They have been eagerly waiting to find out what has happened to the TRAMPER diving robot, which has been exploring the deep seas around Spitsbergen for a year. Now they are ready to bring it back.

Aerospace
11 July 2017
To boldly go, and safely return – behind the scenes at Ariane Group

The multi-million-mile journey of the Ariane 5 rocket begins in Bremen, while that of Spacelab came to an end here in 1999, after 15 years of service with 22 missions to outer space. Ariane Group in Bremen is the ideal place to experience the history of space travel.

Investing in Bremen
13 June 2017
Airbus’ site manager Dr André Walter: “For us, digitalisation means making work easier and more efficient”

A great deal of manual labour goes into aircraft construction. Despite this – or perhaps even because of it – Airbus is changing its approach to make increased use of digital technologies. It’s also researching the applications of new manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. And not a moment too soon, as Airbus’ site manager in Bremen, Dr André Walter, explains in our interview.

Aerospace
15 February 2017
"Bremen has everything that a hub for the space industry needs"

In December 2016 ministers from the European Space Agency (ESA) member states met to determine the roadmap for the European space sector for the years ahead. Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Bremen submitted joint recommendations. In the following interview Dr Peter Vits, Bremen's State Coordinator for the Space Sector, talks about Bremen's strengths and opportunities.

Aerospace
14 February 2017
Take-off for Bremen: what makes the city a hub for aerospace expertise

The sky is not the limit, at least not in Bremen. All parts of the aerospace sector are represented in the city, from R&D to production. Aeroplane wings, Ariane rockets and Galileo satellites – Bremen is one of the leading locations in the international aerospace industry. Here are five factors behind Bremen’s story of success.

Aerospace
31 January 2017
“50 per cent of the exhibition space has already been reserved”

In 2015 Bremen won the right to host the International Astronautical Congress for the second time, after having successfully held the event in 2003. Its bid was the result of a collaboration between the Bremen regional government and Bremen’s space industry and space research sector. Event partners include the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the German Aerospace Centre.

EcoMaT / lightweight construction
25 November 2016
Aircraft construction at close quarters – behind the scenes at the Airbus Group

What makes an aircraft fly? You don't have to be an aerospace expert to be fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes at one of the largest aircraft construction companies in the world. The Airbus Group in Bremen turns the dream of flying into ...