Space is the ultimate definition of an advanced industry. Its technological frontiers must be continually rolled back, but at the same time, maximum autonomy and total equipment reliability must be guaranteed. Our unique expertise in cryogenics has made Air Liquide a major contributor to space exploration for more than 50 years. We take part in the largest international projects, including the European Ariane launcher program, satellite programs (primarily Herschel, Planck and MeteoSat Third Generation) and the International Space Station (with the MELFI cold storage system).
From cryogenics to space exploration
As a full stakeholder in, and partner of the scientific community, Air Liquide has a permanent commitment to the development and optimization of cryogenic equipment. It supports the space industry at two levels: the design and manufacture of cryogenic tanks and equipment, and the production of industrial gases, backed up by the provision of associate services.
On-site at launch sites
Air Liquide maintains a presence on the launch bases of Kourou in French Guiana, Cape Canaveral (Florida) for the NASA, and Tanegashima in Japan. For every firing, our teams produce and supply the propulsion and inerting fluids for the launchers.
In addition to supplying gases, Air Liquide equipment – like the HYLIAL™ hydrogen liquefier – provides on-site gas production, storage and distribution facilities.
The heavy lifters: the launchers
In conjunction with its subsidiary, Air Liquide advanced Technologies, and Euro Cryospace (a strategic partnership between Air Liquide and Airbus Defence and Space), Air Liquide is involved at every point from the design of launchers’ cryogenic tanks of the Ariane program through to their integration to the systems. As a proactive contributor to advanced technology research alongside the CNES (the French national space agency) and ESA (the European Space Agency), Air Liquide has contributed to every evolution of the Ariane launcher, from Ariane 1 to Ariane 5.
To ensure that the adventure continues, Air Liquide is working with its partners to conceive and design the routes to progress that will lead to the space exploration projects of tomorrow. With this goal in mind, we are engaged in an ongoing strategy of innovation to roll back the frontiers of technology even further.
Orbital systems and satellites
In orbital cryogenics, the techniques developed by Air Liquide can be used to meet a broad range of requirements:
Preserving biological samples taken in space using the MELFI cold storage system onboard the International Space Station
Cooling the infrared sensors fitted to satellites that observe the universe
Storing superfluid helium at cryogenic temperatures for the Herschel satellite
Cooling one of the scientific observation instruments of the Planck satellite with a dilution cooler
Air Liquide is now engaged in developing technologies that will enable future missions to explore the solar system.
Pulse Tube cryocoolers
Air Liquide expertise extends into the world of orbital systems, with the innovative cryogenic cooling technology known as Pulse Tube cryocoolers, which uses pulsed gas tubes to provide refrigeration.
This technology has been adopted for a number of different orbital systems, including an observation satellite due to be launched in 2018. Onboard Pulse Tube technology offers many benefits for space applications:
High-stability cryogenic refrigeration capacity
Extremely low levels of vibration
Remarkably long operational reliability
Air Liquide will provide Pulse Tube cryocoolers for the MTG (MeteoSat Third Generation) observation satellite. The 12 Pulse Tube cryocoolers to be installed onboard the MTG should remain operational for around 10 years. The MTG program includes positioning six satellites in a geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the Earth, beginning in 2017. The satellites will remain in position for around 20 years to provide continual access to improved-accuracy meteorological and climatic data.
When the Air Liquide facility at Sassenage (Isère, France) was created in 1962, it included a testing center designed to test, inspect and qualify equipment for space applications. Thus every tank used in the generations of Ariane launchers have been tested at this center.
In 2011, a half-scale demonstrator of Ariane's cryogenic tanks was built here as part of the HX technology demonstration program commissioned by the CNES to develop new cryogenic technologies for future launch vehicles. The subsequent tests conducted using this HX demonstrator have successfully accredit 14 completely new technologies.