SAFRON Propulsion Solide – Bordeaux, France

About a week ago we visited several companies in Bordeaux, including Safran. Although we weren’t able to talk pictures, they did give us a guided tour of their facility. The company is a large conglomerate of many smaller companies and is a fairly new company, forming very recently in 2005, but does business all over the world reaching markets in North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Safran was different than many of the companies that we had toured thus far during the program as the facility that we had toured has a focus on aerospace propulsion and produces missiles, rockets, and satellites. The facility, currently known as Herakles, produces the M51 missile amongst other components. We were given an in-depth tour of the facility and were guided through the production process.

Safran is an aircraft and rocket engine development company. They were initially formed when SNECMA, a component manufacturer group, and SAGEM, a security company, merged together in 2005. SNECMA is now currently a subsidiary of the Safran group.

Snecma Propulsion Solide, now known as Herakles, currently has just over 300 personnel. It’s located just outside of Bordeaux in a small town called Hailsham. The facility designs, develops, and manufactures solid propellant engines and composites specifically for military, space, and civil applications. Some of the big accomplishments of the facility include the production of the M45 and M51 rockets and the Ariane 5 and Vega satellite launchers. The facility is at the center of the Aerospace Technology Hub in Europe. They have developed various technologies for rocket propulsion, including nozzle and engine design, and have implemented those technologies in all of their rockets and missiles, including the M45 and the M51 missiles. The Ariane 5 satellite launcher engine was able to generate over 300 tons of thrust due to the new advances in technology developed by the company. Their new generation of missiles, the M51, is composed of composites, carbon fiber, and epoxy materials. The new design allows for much better efficiency and produces a lot less noise.

The facility in Bordeaux mainly produces nozzles. These nozzles are installed in the M51 submarine launched ballistic missile and European launch vehicles such as the Ariane 5. The nozzle assembly line for both products are separated. The nozzles are made with great precision from robust materials to sustain the high exit pressure of the exhaust gases, which could reach 6.5 MPa in the solid booster rockets.

The production of nozzles starts from wrapping metal sheets into different sections of the bell shaped nozzle. This is done by a winding machine that uses a circular geometry as the nozzle framework. Then the wound metal coil is formed into the exact shape of the nozzle by the forming machine that generates a pressure of up to 33 MPa and reaches a temperature of 2000°C. With the nozzle sections completed, they will be sent to the drilling machine to drill the holes for bolts and gas release holes. A total of 9000 holes will be completed. A non-destructive inspection is conducted afterwards. Inspection by UV radiation is used for checking any cracks and unwanted holes that could potentially cause leakages.  After ensuring the piece is in good conduction, it is sent to the cleaning station for sand blasting, degreasing and auto washing before moving into the white room. The white room is where each of the individual pieces are glued together, the most important part of the production line. Under controlled humidity and temperature, a 5-man crew applies composite glue to bond the pieces together. At this point it’s essentially like a giant game of Legos as each of the parts come together. At the end, a reinforced rubber layer is attached to the outer surface as a thermal protection layer to separate the nozzle heat from main body of the rocket. With 2 teams of 12 people, a production line is capable of producing approximately 12 nozzles a year.

The visit of the SNECMA production line in Bordeaux was very in depth. It showed us the production process of rocket nozzles from the beginning to the end. However, the production line was not the entirety of the visit. Before touring the factory, we had an opportunity to see the showroom that showed the intricacies of the past SNECMA products and the technologies that they were composed of. We were able to physically see the details of the launch vehicles, such as carbon fiber composite structures, rotating nozzle controls, nozzle interiors, and the exact shape of the solid propellant grain. This was definitely an eye-opening experience that allows us to gain a better understanding of spacecrafts and visually experience something that we’ve only seen on paper. Overall the experience was phenomenal, and truly a memorable experience that allowed us to get a better look into the aerospace industry in Europe, and specifically into the Safran Group.

Airbus Tour – Toulouse, France

On Thursday we had the opportunity to visit Airbus at their Toulouse location. We were given a tour of their facilities and were guided through the process of construction and assembly at their factory. The Toulouse location does not deal specifically with the molding and construction of individual parts, but rather they deal with the final assembly, testing, and delivery of the aircraft to their clients. Overall, there were about 8 buildings on the Airbus campus, ranging in functions from testing structural and aerodynamics to construction of the A330, A350, and A380. Unfortunately, I do not have many pictures as we were all suspected spies for Boeing attempting to steal the secrets of the A380 aircraft, what can we do? I apologize in advance for the large amount of technical information in this article, but aim to condense the long and thorough process of developing an aircraft into a short, easy to understand article.

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The day we arrived, there were already a few A330s on the assembly line. Outside, parts were coming in from all corners of the world, some parts arriving from China while others from the United States, using the Airbus Beluga aircraft. The aircraft was specifically designed by Airbus to transport fuselages and various parts. Even throughout the city, there is never a moment you won’t see a Beluga Aircraft in the air.

On the assembly line, Professor and Airbus Engineer, Jean-Fred Begue gave us a private tour of the A330’s under construction. When we arrived, they were in the process of attaching a wing section to the fuselage of the aircraft. This process is done very carefully as the two parts must come together precisely otherwise the wing would be compromised. They connect the two parts using a junction called Spliced Plates. It does have a high cost and can be difficult to remove for maintenance, but it is optimized for mass and incorporates redundancy for safety. The junction essentially consists of bringing the two parts together, placing a plate on top of and bellow the junction, and bolting through them. Overall, there are over 1000 bolts through the wing-fuselage junction. Professor Begue gave us a close-up perspective of the junction along with the connections for the engines and flap motors.

Today, engines are mounted on the wings using, at least, 4 points of contact, and are placed toward the front of the wing and as close to the wing as possible. This position is optimal due to the torque moment generated by the weight of the engine countering the moment generated by the lift from the airfoil, balancing the aircraft during flight. The engines are mounted using fail-safe pins that are meant to break upon extreme circumstances, such as a belly landing in which the landing gear fail, to ensure the engines do not spread fire to the aircraft.

During the visit, Professor Begue showed us both the interior of the wing and the interior of the fuselage. This view revealed the stringers and how they went uninterrupted by the frames of the aircraft through the interior of their structures as he discussed in class. The stringers are long metal beams that go the length of the aircraft that are meant to dissipate normal stresses that the airplane undergoes during takeoff, cruise, and landing. The stringers also help to maintain the skin’s stability by providing an anchoring point to attach to. Stringers are typically pretty thin, but are spaced close together – around one foot (30 centimeters) – so as to make up for the relatively low strength of the individual stringer.

In conjunction with the stringers, the skin is supported by frames which are circular supports spaced out a little more than the stringers and are meant to help prevent buckling while aiming to maintain the shape of the aircraft. During the visit, we were shown the interior of the fuselage before all the important insulation was in place which revealed the frames and stringers on the interior. The frames are made to allow the stringers to pass through them, but are connected via cleats to reduce the effective length of the stringers which reduces any moments generated on the stringers.

The facility we toured was assembling A330s. There were three different stations for the assembly. The first was to attach the wing to the fuselage as discussed earlier. The second process mounted the fuselage pieces together, attached the landing gear, and finished the majority of the exterior assembly. This process required a lot of heavy equipment and precision as it is imperative that everything is perfectly aligned.  The third step of the process is to assemble the inside of the plane. Airbus has a tradition to paint the tail fin of the plane once the seller has been ascertained. Although it looks as if no one is doing anything on the outside, they are doing a lot of work on the inside to make sure that everything is perfect for the airline company.

All in all, the trip to Airbus was very revealing as you begin to think how hard it is to manufacture the first aircraft. This is because everything within the manufacturing plant and everything involved – the Beluga, the plants that manufacture the individual parts, and every other step in the process all play a small role in the large picture of the A330.

Summer in France

Within the next hour, I will be on one of 3 connecting flights on my way to Toulouse, France, to spend the next 6 weeks taking classes in Aerospace Engineering, acquainting myself with some of the top Aerospace firms in Europe, and learning more about French Culture. While I’m not a stranger to traveling abroad, I can’t deny that I’m a bit anxious and excited to be traveling to Europe once again. It’s a continent filled with diverse cultures and people and filled with some of the most fascinating stories about the history of the countries that reside in it.

Last summer I travelled to Madrid, Spain for a similar program. I did research in Nuclear Fuel Management with the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid as well took a course in language in culture in Spain. It was one of the best experiences in my life. I’ve learned more about diverse cultures and people, public interactions, business, and engineering in that one trip that I had my entire life. You can see my blog from last year here. This summer I hope to experience something similar, but on an entirely new level.

This summer I will be taking courses in Aircraft Structures, Transport, Combustion, and Propulsion at the École Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace.  (ISAE) in Toulouse, France. We will be visiting several aerospace companies in the region including Airbus, Rockwell Collins, Interspace, Leibherr Aerospace, Honeywell, and several more. The GEA Summer program in Toulouse consists of about 30 aerospace students from around the world and aims to bring a diverse group of students together and to introduce them to a world of international engineering.

In addition, I will be working on a photography project while abroad. “Le Project Francais” aims to clearly differentiate social identities within different cultures. I plan on interviewing students, professors, and parents, and comparing and contrasting their day to day lives with their counterparts in the United States. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned abroad is that having an open mind about culture differences and acknowledging those differences is key to learning more about your own culture and applying that to other aspects of your life.

I may be a bit anxious and excited as I board this flight, but I look forward to the immense amount of knowledge and adventure that awaits me. Be sure to keep checking the site often for updates, I will be posting them whenever I’m available. Thank you to my friends and family who have supported me in this journey!

Hawking has landed!

This is sort of a late post, but the details and video had to be finalized.

After the Hawking launch, everything looked pretty well. The launch itself was pretty flawless and we expected the landing to be somewhere near Indianapolis. We never lost contact with the payload, but it overshot our predictions. The payload took us through Indiana and landed in the farm fields of Ohio, one of the longest flights in Space for All’s history.



We were curious as to why it was still transmitting data after it landed a few hours later, since there would be tracking interference from trees and other obstacles, only to realize that the payload had been stuck in a tree 60 feet above the ground. Spencer had arranged for a tree service to bring Stephen Hawking and the equipment down and has been retrieved.

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You can follow our journey and watch our video online at

For more information about Space for All and to check out some of our previous projects you can visit us online at!

Send Stephen Hawking to Space

This Sunday, February 9th, a couple of students, along with Space For All Launch services, will be accomplishing a dream that one physicist has had for a long time. Professor Stephen Hawking is next to catch a ride on Space For All’s high altitude balloon launches, well at least an action figure with his likeness.

Hawking has not only taught us more about the universe and our place within it, but has led the charge for science education and popularization. By far the most widely recognized scientist alive today, Dr. Hawking has easily earned his place as the next person to have his likeness launched into space aboard a Space for All balloon.

“We’re sending an action figure of Stephen Hawking to the edge of space. Why? This is the twenty-first century — you don’t ask why! (But really, it’s to celebrate his efforts in science outreach and to inspire people to begin exploring space on their own). By attaching his likeness to an enormous balloon filled with hydrogen, we hope to deliver Stephen to an altitude of nearly 100,000 feet. An advanced suite of cameras and tracking equipment will then let us recover the balloon (and action figure!) downwind so we can share the entire adventure in glorious high definition.” – Spencer Gore, Project Lead

We are currently accepting donations to accomplish this dream. Upon re-entry and capture, the action figure will be sent to his daughter to commemorate the launch. You can find out more about the event and donate online at–2 .

This is just one of many launches that Space For All has done in the past. You can find out more about the organization at