The last ‘Made in Switzerland’ payload fairing for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) ATLAS V launch vehicle has now left RUAG Space bound for the spaceport in Florida, the Emmen-based company announced on 30 September.
Composite structures for the ATLAS V and the new VULCAN CENTAUR launchers have been produced at RUAG's American site in Decatur, AL, since 2017. The Emmen production site will remain the competence center for the European ARIANE and VEGA launchers. The composite payload fairings are manufactured there in a 5000m² production hall in a modern, innovative and partially automated process, in which the carbon fibre structures required are manufactured without the use of an autoclave. In addition to the ATLAS launchers, all ARIANE rockets launched since 1979 have flown with payload fairings from RUAG Space.
For Holger Wentscher, SVP Product Group Launchers at RUAG Space, the last shipment also marks the completion of an important project for RUAG Space. “[ULA] and RUAG Space have been working together successfully in the ATLAS programme for more than a decade. By setting up the site in Decatur, we were able to significantly strengthen our strategic partnership with ULA. Local production not only creates customer proximity. At the same time, we are able to further expand our presence in the USA.”
The huge payload fairing practically fills the cargo hold of an An-124 transport aircraft – the world’s largest. Loading the 20m-high structure into the Antonov required millimetric precision, despite its enormous dimensions. “We need almost the entire loading area to transport our payload fairing. This meant that we had to pay meticulous attention to the space available so that the precious cargo was not damaged. In addition to the right equipment, this required a great deal of skill and sensitivity,” explained Jérôme Bonhomme, Project Manager ATLAS.
The payload fairing makes up about a third of the total length of a launch vehicle. Located on the upper part of the rocket, it consists of two half-shells made of carbon fibre composites that split in space. It protects the satellites before launch from high temperatures, solar radiation, dust, humidity or rain at the launch site. During the first few minutes of flight, the payload fairing must reliably protect the satellites encapsulated under it from noise, the enormous heat and mechanical loads.