P120C – Europe’s new solid propulsion workhorse
Two or four P120Cs, depending on the configuration, will be strapped onto Ariane 6’s core stage as boosters for liftoff.
The P120C is Europe’s new solid propulsion workhorse. The ‘C’ stands for ‘common’ as P120C will be used on both ESA-developed launcher systems – Vega-C as well as Ariane 6. It has been developed by Europropulsion, which is owned jointly by Avio and ArianeGroup.
Rocket motors that contain solid fuel burn until the fuel is depleted. Simple and powerful, this form of propulsion is often an operations low-cost option for raw power, used most often at the liftoff stage. Each P120C motor provides about 4500 kN of thrust.
P120C is 13.5 m long and 3.4 m in diameter and weighs 11 tonnes. Its 25 cm thick casing is made using a carbon composite material and it is built in one segment at Avio’s Colleferro rocket factory in Italy. ArianeGroup in France developed the advanced P120C nozzle, while Nammo in Norway provided the igniter. Efficient production methods have shortened production cycles and optimised costs.
Three models of the P120C have completed hot firings at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana: the development model (DM1) in July 2018, the first qualification model (QM1) in January 2019 – the version which will be used on Vega-C’s maiden flight, and most recently the qualification model (QM2) in October 2020 for use on the maiden flight of Ariane 6. The production of the motor components for the Vega-C flight model is almost complete.
The final step is to demonstrate that new production facilities are fully up and running to meet demand.