Paris, 11 Jun 2004
Spaceflight engineers face three constant challenges: reducing weight and size, improving thermal insulation and increasing reliability. Progress in these fields does not just benefit rocket launches or spacecraft. This week EuroNews investigates how space technology is migrating into numerous areas of life on planet Earth.
Since 2002, the European Space Agency has been a partner of the motor-racing team Pescarolo Sport to improve their performance, safety and driver comfort.
"When orbiting, one kilogram can cost 100 000 euros. Reducing the mass of something launched into space is paramount," explains Pierre Brisson, head of ESA's Technology Transfer and Promotion Office. "We get similar advantages for cars. Using lightweight carbon space composites we have, over two years, allowed Pescarolo Sport to trim 38 kg off their racing cars."
Safety is improved using such high-resistance materials and so is reliability. "We have adapted the thermal insulation used on Ariane 5's Vulcain engines to protect the car's petrol tank from the heat of the engine and exhausts, and to insulate the driver's cockpit," confirms André de Cortanze, Technical Director of the Pescarolo Sport team.
The friction and weight of the four wheels have also been reduced thanks to space technology. The car carries high-performance space bearings originally developed for spacecraft. Today these special bearings are used in gyroscopes onboard satellites and also in Ariane 5's Vulcain engine fuel pump. According to André de Cortanze around 30% of the total improvements in performance and speed since 2003 can be attributed to the use of the space bearings.
The team concluded the 2003 race season with considerable satisfaction. Their space-technology prototypes won two FIA Sportscar Championship races, and ended up overall second. They also finished eighth and ninth out of 50 competitors in the legendary 24-hour Le Mans endurance race.
Powered by British 600-horsepower V10 5-litre Judd engines, two prototypes are this year again racing around the circuits. In May, EuroNews cameras were present in Italy to see a Pescarolo-Judd arrive fourth in the 1000 km Monza race, just after three Audis.
This transfer of space technology to motor racing will ultimately see its way into mass-produced cars. "Reducing the weight of our cars cuts fuel consumption, and will benefit ordinary motorists," says Henri Pescarolo who recalls that car air bags were initially conceived for space applications.
Since Monza, his stable has been fine-tuning two cars entered for the 24-Hour Le Mans venue and preparing the remaining endurance races. They are confident that the innovations and solid solutions of these ESA-backed prototypes will again cut seconds off lap times and increase their chances of being on the podiums.
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