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ESA to test fire largest-ever solid rocket motor

By Brooks Hays
ESA to test fire largest-ever solid rocket motor
ESA's newest rocket engine, the biggest in the world, is ready for its hot test fire. Photo by ESA

July 9 (UPI) -- Engineers with the European Space Agency are preparing to test fire the P120C rocket motor, the largest solid rocket motor ever built.

The motor will be erected in the test stand and fired for the first time at Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

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P120C is 44 feet tall and has a diameter of 11 feet. The massive rocket is slated to power the Vega-C and Ariane 6 rockets. Vega-C is scheduled to launch next year, while Ariane 6 will blast-off in 2020. Both next-generation rockets will handle satellite-launching duties for ESA.

P120C's technologies improve upon Vega's P80 first stage motor -- the largest and most powerful single-piece solid-fuel rocket engine currently in use. P80 has powered dozens of ESA rocket launches.

The rocket's many components, including the nozzle, igniter, solid propellant and insulated motor case, have already been separately tested. Engineers also recently tested a full-scale model of the P120C filled with inert propellant.

"Information gathered during this static firing will allow engineers to compare their numerical models against observed reality to consolidate the P120C design," ESA announced in a news release.

The data will inform the construction of a P120C qualification motor that will be tested later this year.

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