Space startup Launcher is adding a second VELO3D metal printing system to its Long Beach, California facility to improve its additive manufacturing processes. A high-performance small satellite missile developer, Launcher, will use the new Sapphire platform only to print high-performance titanium rocket components, such as the pressure vessels for the company’s third stage orbital transfer vehicle and satellite platform.
With this new addition, Launcher and VELO3D – a leading company in 3D printing for high-quality metal parts – are further expanding their cooperation in the production of components for high-performance liquid rocket engines and accelerating rocket development. Since the new 3D printer will only print titanium components, the first sapphire model in the facility will be dedicated to making Inconel rocket parts such as fuel pumps, fuel tanks and aircraft turbine housings.
As the market for small launch vehicles expands, reducing costs and optimizing manufacturing technologies are essential, especially in critical applications such as propulsion and avionics. When it comes to rocket developers, Launcher is one of the most open about 3D printing solutions for space components. Even when the startup was testing its first engines from storage containers in its original facility at the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in New York, company founder and CEO Max Haot was keen to demonstrate the benefits of using additive solutions for built-in parts quickly and too much less Cost than traditional rocket manufacturing processes.
In fact, the startup made headlines in the AM world after printing the first liquid oxygen (LOX) turbo pump for a rocket engine in April 2021. The prototype of the turbo pump, which was created in Inconel with specialized turbo-machine engineering software from Ansys and the metal AM system from Velo3D, was successfully installed in NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on its high-performance liquid rocket engine, the Launcher E-2 , tested. After this success, the company expects to test the current LOX soon.
“Velo3D really won over our turbo pump, including its 3D printed rotating impeller, all of which worked perfectly the first time at 30,000 rpm with the first prototype,” said Haot. “Parts for rocket engine turbo pumps typically require casting, forging, and welding. The tooling required for these processes increases development costs and reduces flexibility between design iterations. The ability to 3D print our turbo pump – including rotating Inconel-coated impellers thanks to Velo3D’s zero-degree technology – now makes this possible at lower cost and increased innovation by iterating between each prototype. “
Founded in 2017, Launcher is developing its low-cost Launcher Light rocket to launch payloads up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds) into low earth orbit (LEO) with a single E-2 engine. Launcher’s rocket is slated to launch sometime in 2024 and is intended for the smaller market, with plans to sell missions for around $ 10 million per launch and customers hoping to operate within LEO. Additionally, Haot and his team have developed a universal orbital transfer vehicle and satellite platform that are compatible with both Launcher Light and SpaceX Falcon 9 carpooling. Orbiter is interoperable with both launch vehicles via a shared 24-inch ESPA-Grande adapter ring and will make its first flight into sun-synchronous orbit in October 2022 with a SpaceX carpooling mission.
With so much going on, the company is relying heavily on its strategy of using AM in as many missile components as possible. In anticipation of high demand for its spacecraft, Launcher’s new advanced manufacturing facility in California will include a variety of in-house capabilities. In addition to the machines from VELO3D, it also has an AMCM M4K industrial metal 3D printer from the EOS group company Additive Manufacturing Customized Machines (AMCM). In addition, the company plans to also leverage VELO3D’s contract manufacturing partners such as Stratasys Direct Manufacturing when scaling AM production.
Helping space companies innovate for alien exploration is part of VELO3D’s groundbreaking business strategy, especially now that the commercial sector’s share of the space market has overtaken government initiatives, particularly in the US and Europe. The soon-to-be-listed company has served leading space company SpaceX for years, as well as a variety of space startups like Sierra Space, a Nevada-based company that makes reusable space planes and even a commercial space station.
VELO3D founder and CEO Benny Buller said it was “very exciting” to work with innovative companies like Launcher. The reason for this is that it has already “proven the value” and “experienced the quality of Advanced Metal AM” through current projects and understands the potential of this technology for “expanding the success of your extraterrestrial company”. ”
As the market for nano and microsatellite operators moves and matures, it will require more targeted but affordable launches, and many startups around the world, like Launcher, are preparing to meet that need in the next decade. With AM, they could revolutionize spacecraft technology faster and achieve better overall performance than traditional manufacturing processes. There are many ways 3D printing can transform this industry in the future, especially as more space startups emerge around the world and space travel becomes more accessible, paving the way for future interplanetary space exploration and space additive manufacturing.